I've always considered myself a student of political science and popular social movements. Discovering "what" people believe relatively easy. You can use polls, focus groups, or you can just listen closely. The more interesting question is "Why and how did people arrive at their beliefs?" The answer is always fairly complicated and nuanced.
Take the Tea Party, for example. Are they driven by racial animus? A principled stance against big government? GOP partisanship? Corporate astroturfing? Mental illness? Probably all of the above. And the answer varies across the movement.
Which brings me to the subject of this diary: "the Left" and their FASCINATING angst towards Barack Obama. First, let me define the "Left" and make it clear that I do not mean liberals, progressives, the Democratic base, or the netroots. For the purposes of this diary "The Left" is defined as the loud (but small - it's a common mistake to overestimate their numbers or assign them actual importance) portion of the Democratic party (about 1-2%) that dislikes Barack Obama's policies with an alarming degree of intensity. This group often exhibits a lack of perspective, a lack of understanding of basic legislative procedure, and a sense of self-righteousness that drives their activism but makes them disagree with fairly uncontroversial statements like, "Barack Obama cares about people" or "Barack Obama's desires to move the country to the left" or "Barack Obama is not corrupt" or "Barack Obama likes LGBT people".
The importance and relevance of this small group of disgruntled Democrats is often overstated, but that's the reason why they're so interesting to examine! Since history books probably won't even record "The Left's" dissent against Obama (since it is so insignificant, ineffective, unremarkable, and difficult to measure in the hundreds of public opinion polls that show his approval ratings at healthy levels with Democrats and liberals), it's important that we take a look at this group before they are left in the dustbin as a potential footnote or short mention in the first draft of a 400 page college term paper (it would eventually be cut out for brevity's sake) on Barack Obama's presidency.
I won't delve much deeper into the "what" because it's on display on a daily basis on the internet. Let's get to the "Why". Why does this small group dislike Obama's policies so much? I like lists, so let's go with that:
- The economy is poor, and this makes people generally crabby about everything from the weather to a politician that they would usually favor.
- Some liberals are simply frozen in the victimized posture of the 2000s. Bush victimized many people on a variety of fronts, and many of the folks who came of age (as political activists) during Bush's years only know how to express outrage and conduct oppo-research style attacks on our poltical leaders. This was both necessary and understandable during the Bush Administration's many abuses, war crimes, and outrages, but during a liberal admininstration, this tendency becomes destructive and manifests itself as a propensity to nitpick politicians on minor details, assume the worst of our political leaders (even our natural allies), and attack, attack, attack (!) on a daily basis.
- Ideology (though it's a bit more complicated than just ideology). Some people are simply well to the Left of Obama and well to the Left of the equilibrium of the Democratic party. But think about it - that doesn't explain anything! Nearly every rank and file liberal is to the Left of the Democratic party! It's not just ideology, but the intensity of ideology and a commitment to ineffective and counterproductive tactics that defines this group. Take Al Giordino as an example of someone who is REALLY FAR LEFT (he defines himself as a radical) but who understands that moving the country as far to the left as is possible is a realistic goal. Unlike many in the group of malcontents, Giordino does not hold Obama in contempt for employing tactics that gradually move the country to the Left, despite the fact that Giordino favors a more radical and fast paced shift in that direction.
- A lack of understanding of the structural issues (the NJ Compromise, Majority Minority Districts, etc) that prevent a progressive Congressional majority from taking shape AT THIS TIME (a variety of odd and historically unique coalitions have produced a couple of economically progressive Congresses). These structural issues make it necessary for Democrats to nominate distastefully moderate/conservative candidates that fit their districts. As we all know, once these folks are part of the caucus, they tend to weaken unity, destroy effective messaging, and generally weaken the Democrats' ability to win legislative PR fights without delicate maneuvering, leeway from the party base (that is inevitably forced to compromise on small or medium ticket items), and a bit of luck. Most Democrats recognize these structural factors and assign blame to the moderates who stifle progress. They also tend to forgive leaders like Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and Nancy Pelosi for occasionally swallowing their pride and engaging in distasteful deal making with Democratic "moderates". These folks are better described as "opportunists". These "Democrats" are tough to deal with because - quite frankly - they lack a core ideology. If they were simply moderates in ideology, they could be dealt with more easily, but many are more interested in what might be called "partisan moderation". I define that as "taking a position between the two parties" (wherever the Overton Window may lie) in order to appease their conservative home districts.
Again - most Democrats recognize both the difficulty and neccesity of dealing with these unsavory characters. This is in contrast to "the Left" which assigns blame for the actions of "moderates" to party leaders and Barack Obama. They fail to acknowledge the structural issues that prevent a progressive majority in a country that is Center-Left in ideology.
- Single-issue preferences drive opinions on Obama. This one is actually the most understandable of all that I've listed. In fact, I sympathize with the complaints of single-issue activists. Let me explain with a hypothetical, but first a loose definition of "single-issue activists" and a disclaimer that there is nothing wrong with being a single-issue activist!
Single issue activists: These activists have an intense personal commitment to ONE issue that overwhelms their slight interest in other progressive causes, democratic partisanship, or personal affection for individual politicians. Whereas most Democrats have pet causes, a favorite issue, or various issue preferences with various levels of saliency, single issue activists focus single-mindedly (and often very effectively) on one issue.
A quick hypothetical: Let's say you're a reproductive rights single-issue activist. You don't care much about the Democratic party (except in the general sense that it's success helps abortion rights) or individual politicians (ditto). You only care about reproductive rights, and you are passionate about this issue. Now imagine that a Democrat passed legislation that (arguably) weakened reproductive rights or (at the very least) continued a detestable policy (the Hyde Amendment) that you strongly oppose. You would be much less forgiving to a President and party that signed such an agreement, because that's literally your end game. There is no, "Well - I might not have won this one, but at least the Democrats will do X, Y, and Z to move the country to the Left", because X, Y, and Z are not salient issues that determine your political preferences.
- A personality defect that causes excessive whining.
- Stupidity (the cause of many things!)
There are countless other lines of reasoning, nuances, and other motivations for this group of 99% white progressives. Some people fall squarely within this group while others shift back and forth between this group and the regular Democratic activist base. Some people are misunderstood as members of this group because they complain a bunch but can be quickly talked down by a calm person using facts and reason like "less people will die because of the ACA" or "there are a ton of problems in this country. Give the guy a break" or other reassurances and coping strategies like, "It's going to be OK" or "Let's all relax" or "SERENITY NOW!"
The bottom line is that no one will remember these people in 2 years when Obama crushes....WHOEVER. Members of this very group will either (1) not even remember that they were ever angry at Obama or (2) assign themselves credit for pushing Obama to the Left and facilitating his win. And that's fine. Because in 20 years - when people take the long view - people won't call Barack Obama a "dangerous" president. They'll see things like the DADT repeal (YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), healthcare reform, and other liberal reforms and rather calmly say things like, "You know, that Obama was kind of annoyingly pragmatic, but he really moved the country to the left on an insanely wide range of issues!"
PS: YEAH DADT REPEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!