Liberals argue that he gave in on the great debate over the debt ceiling. Unions are upset over his handling of unemployment and labor issues. Hispanics brought the immigration debate directly to his campaign doorstep.
US President Barack Obama’s summer of discontent has been marked by rumblings within his Democratic party political base over his willingness to fight congressional Republicans and his approach to fixing the economy.
Liberals disappointed with Obama for compromising with the Republicans during the debt-ceiling showdown now are calling on him to hold firm against Republicans this fall. They want him to push a bold jobs agenda while drawing a strong line on taxes and protecting social benefit programs for the elderly.
In recent weeks, the gripes have become so loud that the president himself acknowledged them during his Midwest bus tour last week.
“I’ve got a whole bunch of responsibilities, which means I have to make choices sometimes that are unattractive and I know will be bad for me politically and I know will get supporters of mine disappointed,” Obama said in Iowa.
He claimed progress on the economy, health care and two wars. And, offering his backers a bit of tough love, he added: “Sometimes you’ve got to make choices in order to do what’s best for the country at that particular moment, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
The complaints — founded or not — are narrowing the tightrope Obama must walk over the next year to keep his base energized while recapturing the independent voters who helped power his win over US Senator John McCain in 2008.
Still, for all the complaining, the ultimate impact on Obama’s re-election chances is open to question. The president faces no serious primary opponent, and polls show him faring fairly well within his party. Few liberals are likely to support a Republican for president next year.
However, angry liberals could refuse to volunteer to knock on doors or make telephone calls, a pivotal grassroots role for a candidate’s base of supporters. Disaffected Democrats could keep their wallets closed, hampering small-dollar fundraising over the Internet. Or they could just stay away from the polls on next year’s Nov. 6 election day.
“They want to love him, but he’s given them little evidence and his rhetoric is running out of steam,” said Princeton University professor Cornel West, who campaigned for Obama in 2008, but has become a fierce critic.
“We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. He’s going to need high levels of enthusiasm among his base, and it’s going to be hard to do that with speeches and no real serious actions or policies,” West said.
The liberal angst has surfaced repeatedly over the past year as Obama has faced the reality of divided government in the aftermath of last year’s congressional elections in which Republicans won the US House of Representatives.
Liberals howled last December when he struck a deal with the Republicans to extend the era of tax cuts under former US president George W. Bush. That reinforced earlier bad feelings from when he dropped the proposed “public option” for a government plan to compete with private insurance as part of the health care overhaul.
Lately, the left has complained that Obama gave up too much in spending cuts during the debt-ceiling fight and failed to extract higher taxes on the wealthy in return.