Left splits with Obama

Aaron Guerrero Contributor
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These days the left isn’t all too happy with President Obama.

A group once inspired by the rhetorical splendor of candidate Obama has come to shudder at President Obama for what they view as a lack of action on a series of explicit campaign promises.

“I’m disgusted with this president,” bellowed ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero last week before the liberal group America’s Future Now.

During an interview with Politico, Romero clarified his remarks.

“I’m not disgusted at President Obama personally. It’s President Obama’s policies on civil liberties and national security issues I’m disgusted by. It’s not a personal attack.”

Romero went on to name a number of issues serving as the source of his consternation, ranging from the unfulfilled promise of closing Guantanamo Bay to the administration’s lack of vigor in pursuing prosecutions against Bush-era officials.

But it’s not just disgruntled left-leaning civil libertarians who are voicing their displeasure with the president. Obama has also had to deal with pressure, if not outright hostility, from any number of high-powered liberal constituencies, including fiery bloggers and labor unions, which have not taken well to compromises made on health care or the lack of legislative movement on issues such as card check.

The resentment brewing for months between the White House and its more liberal supporters played itself out in the recent Arkansas Democratic senate primary, with Obama and Co. supporting centrist incumbent Blanche Lincoln and the blogosphere-union alliance supporting the more liberal Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. For liberal activists, the race presented an opportunity to put their grievances against the Obama administration into action while getting rid of the kind of Democrat they have come to view as ideologically weak and beholden to corporate interests.

Following Lincoln’s runoff election victory last Tuesday, the Obama White House wasted little time in expressing its dissatisfaction with labor union attempts at bringing down Lincoln.

“Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise,” a scolding White House official said. “If even half that total had been well applied in key House races across the country, that could have made a real difference in November.”

Prior to the oil spill in the Gulf, much of the criticism of Obama from the left had centered on policy and the desire to see the administration pursue a more partisan legislative agenda. But over the past few weeks, the criticism has morphed from issues of policy to issues of personality and management style.

Former Clinton advisor James Carville fired the opening salvo on “Good Morning America.”

“These people are crying,” Carville said in the aftermath of the oil spill. “They’re begging for something down here, and he just looks like he’s not involved in this.”

Liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd observed, “Once more [Obama] has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.”

Even film director Spike Lee joined the action during an interview on CNN, telling the president “one time, go off.”

The grand irony of such criticism is that it is antithetical to the very praise the left heaped upon Obama during his presidential run. They spoke glowingly of his analytical ability and persistently calm approach amidst the whirlwind of presidential politics. It was the glaring contrast to the instinctual leadership of Bush, and the ad-hoc ways of McCain, that made Obama such an attractive candidate.

Writing in their best-selling book “Game Change,” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann pointedly observed why candidate Obama came off looking so well during the financial crisis in 2008:

“The crisis atmosphere created a setting in which his intellect, self-possession, and unflappability were seen as leaderly qualities, and not as aloofness, arrogance, or bloodlessness, as they had sometimes been regarded in the past.”

Now those qualities are coming under severe fire for not sufficiently meeting the needs of the moment.

A recent Gallup poll indicated that 43 percent of Republicans are enthusiastic about voting in November while just 28 percent of Democrats said the same. Obama’s job approval hovers between 45 and 50 percent. Adding to the headache is the backdrop of a sagging economy and a cranky electorate.

If Democrats plan on stunting large Republican gains in the fall they are going to need an all-hands-on-deck approach that requires a delicate balancing act of muting their criticism of Obama while subtly distancing themselves from the more unpopular elements of his presidency. The degree of party unity will be crucial in preventing a tough election year from becoming even tougher.

Aaron Guerrero, 23, is a 2009 UC Davis graduate, who majored in political science and minored in history. He formerly interned for Congressman Dan Lungren and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a freelance writer.