One problem that Obama is having — and not just on the left, although it might be most acute there — is the dissonance between the grand, poetic narratives of the campaign trail and the prosaic and transactional day-to-day grind of governance…
Nevertheless, I suspect that for most liberals, any real sense of progress has now been lost. Yes, the left got a good-but-not-great health care bill, a good-but-not-great stimulus package, a good-but-not-great financial reform plan: these are a formidable bounty, and Obama and the Democratic Congress worked hard for them. But they now read as a basically par-for-the-course result from a time when all the stars were aligned for the Democrats — rather than anything predictive of a new direction, or of a more progressive future. In contrast, as should become emphatically clear on November 2nd, the reversion to the mean has been incredibly swift.
What liberals haven’t had, in other words, is very many opportunities to feel good about themselves, or to feel good about the future.
Of course, it’s also that the nasty economic recession that began under Bush drags on under Obama. Although I certainly believe that economic conditions are better today than they would have been without aggressive action by the federal government, most people still aren’t feeling it, and that makes them grumpy and/or angry towards the people in power.
Beyond (bad) economics, though, this really is the classic situation where expectations get way out of line with achievements. Basically, we were promised in 2006 and 2008 that if we took back Congress and the White House, particularly with a “filibuster-proof majority” in the Senate, we’d get everything we ever dreamed of: national health care, possibly even “single payer;” a strong, comprehensive, clean energy and climate bill; immigration reform; closure of Gitmo; the rapid end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell;” the winding down of the wars begun during the Bush Administration; a reversal of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and more broadly a return to progressive economics; investment in infrastructure, including both human (education) and physical (advanced power grids, high-speed rail, etc.) capital; more power to labor vis-a-vis business; etc., etc. On top of all that, we were promised a fundamental change in the way Washington does business.
How much of any of this stuff have we really gotten so far? As Nate Silver puts it, we’ve gotten a bunch of “good-but-not-great” on a lot of it, not much at all on other parts (e.g., the way Washington does business). Well, sorry, but after how hard we worked the past few years, it’s frustrating, dispiriting, etc. to see it wither on the vine. What about that don’t Robert Gibbs and the White House understand? And what do they really think they’re going to accomplish by lashing out at their own base, while trying desperately to reason with the unreasonable on the far right (aka, today’s Republican Party, who continue to call Obama a “socialist” even as he tries to be a “centrist”)? Got me.