For generations, Democrats longed for a president who could enact national health care. Barack Obama did it.
For years, Democrats longed for a president who could massively increase federal spending, impose broad new regulations and fight for higher taxes. Barack Obama did it.
For much of the past decade, Democrats longed for a president who could pull American forces out of Iraq and redirect U.S. security policy toward al-Qaida. Barack Obama did it — and killed Osama bin Laden, to boot.
Obama did all that, and more. And now many Democrats are afraid to be seen with him. Some gratitude.
Democratic grumbling about the president has reached an all-time high. On a recent conference call of party strategists, disaffected Democrats reportedly threw around words like “betrayed,” “disappointed,” “furious” and “disgusted,” with some blaming Obama for the stunning Democratic loss in New York’s 9th Congressional District. Surveying the political landscape of Democratic disaffection with the president, longtime strategist James Carville could come up with just one word of advice: “Panic!”
Meanwhile, the president’s approval ratings are hitting new lows, with his job approval rating bouncing around the high 30s to the low 40s in recent Gallup polls. The numbers are even worse — about 70 percent disapproval — for Obama’s handling of the economy. Independent voters, the key to the president’s election in 2008, have abandoned him right and left.
Given all that, it’s no surprise that many Democrats are running away from Obama. But here’s the problem: He did what Democrats wanted him to do. Health care, stimulus, taxes, you name it — Obama did what his party wanted. Not what the public at large wanted, but what many Democrats wanted. And now, as the negative electoral consequences of their own priorities stare them in the face, those Democrats are blaming the president.
And, by the way, the Democrats who are most unhappy with Obama are the ones who wanted him to do more of the things that have made him unpopular.
“It’s ingratitude,” says a Democratic strategist who asked to remain anonymous. “People are saying to (Obama), ‘You didn’t do everything you told me you were going to do.’ If you’re a member of a union, you didn’t get everything you wanted. If you’re an environmentalist, you didn’t get everything you wanted. But the left wants to go beyond what’s possible.”
A lot of today’s whining and fretting is the normal stuff of politics. The polls are ugly, members of Congress up for re-election in 2012 are nervous, and activists are frustrated. But Obama also set himself up for today’s dissatisfaction by his choice of campaign platform in 2008.
“He ran on hope, and hope is really attractive and appealing, but it’s not very concrete,” the strategist says. “So what it meant to everyone was slightly different.”
Democrats who wanted to see their personal agendas enacted were inevitably disappointed.
But look at what they got. It’s not just historic measures like Obamacare, financial regulation and the stimulus. Obama has presided over lots of other accomplishments, big and small, that should warm the hearts of liberal Democrats. He has used his regulatory powers to shore up the nation’s fading unions; could organized labor have a better friend than the man whose appointees are trying to stop Boeing from building a non-union plant in South Carolina? He pushed repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” through Congress. He nominated and won confirmation of two solidly liberal members of the U.S. Supreme Court. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act aimed at guaranteeing women equal pay.
This is a serious question: If you’re a Democrat, what’s not to like? What kind of unreasonable standard would make a Democrat unhappy with a president who accomplished those things? And yet many Democrats are beside themselves with frustration and anxiety.
Obviously, the economy is the source of much of that unhappiness. If it doesn’t improve, Obama’s re-election prospects are dim. But in 2 1/2 years in office, Obama has dealt with the economic downturn in precisely the way most conventional Democrats would have dealt with it. He didn’t come up with the stimulus on his own. Just the opposite: He went along as Hill Democrats packed the bill with wish-list spending. And now people who larded up the stimulus with their own pet projects are unhappy with Obama for doing what they wanted? And critical of his new stimulus proposal? It doesn’t make sense.
Yes, Obama is in trouble. But look at what he’s done for Democrats. Shouldn’t they think twice before bashing him?
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.