and the Angry Left
THE FIGHT FOR PROGRESSIVE REALISM
Lawrence R. Jacobs1
BARACK OBAMA IS the most productive liberal president in at least a generation. But his tenure in office has been met with seething disappointment from many liberals and by the slackening of their support for his agenda, and for Democratic Party causes generally.
Conservative commentators and politicians understandably recoiled at the expansion of government; some abandoned principled opposition to embrace rhetorically over-heated charges of government “takeovers” and “death panels.” As the conservative outcry is unsurprising, the persistent hostility of liberals to the most liberal president in at least a generation does raise a consequential puzzle about the Obama presidency and contemporary American politics.
The angry Left emerged soon after the 2008 election to savage Obama’s selection of his cabinet as posers who would—as William Greider put it— “sustain the failing policies of George W. Bush.” Obama’s 2009 stimulus and campaigns to pass health and financial reforms elicited incessant complaints about his lack of toughness to face down recalcitrant members of Congress (including Democrats) and well-funded lobbyists, his preoccupation with insider details at the expense of providing sustained passionate public leadership, and his delusional hope in bipartisanship that frittered away valuable time and policy opportunities.2 Senator Bernie Sanders stirred talk in late 2010 of an extraordinary confrontation with a sitting president—launching a primary challenge after the Democrats’ midterm losses when Obama won an extension of long-term unemployment benefits and other Democratic priorities in exchange for accepting Republican demands for a two-year continuation of Bush’s tax cuts for the affluent. Attacks from the Left on the most