In his power rankings post, my esteemed co-blogger Jeff writes:
For all the whining from the not-really-the-base, Obama has strong support from the left, especially given the candidates vying for the nomination on the right.
Frankly, there’s just not much room to attack Obama if one is being fair to him.
I think it’s more accurate to say that the base is split — which makes sense, since the Democratic party is split as well. Clearly, a lot of the base supports Obama, but a lot of the base is angry, and dismissing progressive critiques of Obama as “whining” isn’t a substantive response.
It’s ridiculous to imply that all progressive critiques of Obama are unfair. Especially on issues like war, transparency, going after whistleblowers, wiretaps, deportations, medical marijuana, whitewashing torture — issues where Obama acts without having to get a bill passed through Congress — there’s no excuse for how far right Obama has gone.
And given that he now faces a hostile Congress, a president who’s able to keep his head down and negotiate hard is going to be more successful than one who bloviates and gets rolled.
Contrary to what Jeff claims, Obama doesn’t “negotiate hard.” He’s a terrible negotiator , who has been out-negotiated by the Republicans again and again. Obama’s negotiates by offering a compromise as his opening bid, and then being compromising further from there. In Jeff’s terminology, Obama is the guy who keeps his head down while he’s getting rolled.
Admittedly, the Republicans have the advantage of an amazingly unified party in Congress. It’s possible that a much better negotiator wouldn’t have done much, or any, better. Does that excuse not trying?
Nate Silver describes Obama’s approach as risk-adverse:
But I do think it’s fair to characterize it as a risk-averse strategy. And that, at the core, is what bothers some liberals about Mr. Obama’s approach to the presidency. Fairly or not, they want him to push the envelope more than he has and to take a few more chances — to expand the realm of the possible, as Mr. Cuomo seems to have done in New York.
Obama’s defenders implicitly assume that nothing Obama did could have possibly have made the situation better. For example, it’s been suggested that it would have been a waste of time for Obama to fight the filibuster, because the public doesn’t care about procedural issues. But when Bush was president, Republicans fought the filibuster with limited, but significant, success, using the mantra “up or down vote” and the threat of the nuclear option (among other techniques) to compel Democrats to allow more votes. Was the public that different back then?
It’s certainly possible that Democrats wouldn’t have gotten better results by fighting the filibuster. But since we can’t know that for certain, they should have tried. And the not-trying-in-Chief title belongs to Obama.