Obama's Battle With the Liberal Wing of the Democratic Party
U.S. News & World Report
By Kenneth T. Walsh Kenneth T. Walsh – Fri May 29, 11:32 am ET
Four decades ago, the liberal, antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped to force President Lyndon B. Johnson from office. Specifically, Johnson decided not to run for re-election in 1968 in large part because of rising primary challenges and increasingly vitriolic demonstrations against him. One chant that was heard often at anti-Vietnam War rallies was "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"
The level of anger now is nowhere close to that level, but there are warning signs that President Obama is starting to generate serious opposition on the fiery left. There is increasing unease about his sending 21,000 more troops into Afghanistan, which some compare to the early escalations in Vietnam. [Read about Obama's 12 most important decisions]
There is disquiet that Obama has abandoned his promise to release photos showing brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists.[Read about Obama's torture problem]
There is consternation that he is moving toward using military tribunals to prosecute some terrorists, that he has not banned assault weapons, and that he has not acted aggressively enough to protect a woman's right to have an abortion.
Many liberals are also unhappy that Obama shows no interest in a "single payer" healthcare system in which the government would take the lead in guaranteeing adequate medical treatment. [Read about Obama's uphill battle to reform healthcare]
Among the groups that have been ratcheting up their criticism of Obama are the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Public Citizen, and members of the 77-member congressional Progressive Caucus. [Read about Obama's journey from charismatic to polarizing]
But despite the disappointment in some quarters, most liberal Democrats have been giving President Obama a pass on his centrist policies, and he still enjoys high approval ratings from the public. The question is whether the overall patience of leaders and voters on the left will last much longer. [Read about why Obama's job rating stays so high]
White House strategists express confidence that they can keep most liberals in line for the foreseeable future. One reason is that Americans on the left have such lengthy wish lists on issues ranging from healthcare reform to legalizing gay marriage. They don't want to create any permanent break with Obama.
And White House officials say this core of the Democratic Party, with some exceptions, will continue to give its president the benefit of the doubt. They point to a meeting that Obama held with the Progressive Caucus in late April. "It was very cordial," recalls one attendee. "The sense I got from that meeting was that there was a clear desire to work through their differences and try to find compromises. There were no flash points."
It appears that after eight years of a Republican in the White House, liberals are willing to muffle their dissent. "There is such an overriding sense of relief that it's Obama and not George W. Bush in the White House," says Geoff Garin, a veteran Democratic pollster. "There is a pretty strong inclination to cut him a lot of slack." Garin also says that liberals "may say he is not tough enough on the banks or that he's keeping the troops in [Iraq] too long and not delivering quickly enough on 'don't ask, don't tell' [to change policy and allow gays to serve openly in the military]. But they are still delighted and thrilled that he is president of the United States." It also helps in muting opposition that Obama and White House officials are reaching out regularly to inform liberal leaders of what Obama is doing and to get feedback. The president's speech Thursday defending his plans to close the Guantánamo Bay prison--a move that is widely supported on the left--was part of that outreach. [Read about the members of Obama's inner circle]
White House advisers add that Obama will be pushed only so far to the left, and with good reason. Only 19 percent of Americans, after all, identify themselves as liberal, compared with 36 percent who say they are moderate and 41 percent who say they are conservative, according to the latest poll by Democracy Corps, a Democratic think tank.
Still, the next few months will be a time of testing. How many compromises will Obama accept on healthcare and on legislation designed to limit global warming and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil? How far will he go in courting conservatives on issues ranging from national security to abortion? Is he sliding ever deeper into a morass in Afghanistan, as LBJ did in Vietnam early in his presidency? [Read about Obama's challenges in Afghanistan]
The looming fight over Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court should ingratiate him to some critics for the time being, since she has strong support among liberals. But the overall uneasiness on the left is real and will remain a serious long-term problem for the new president.
My comments, also posted on Yahoo's Buzz Up:
Well,as I see it, IN OUR HUMBLE OPINION, we, the ultra-left of the Democratic Party must be RELENTLESS...that is, we have to keep track of each and everything President Obama is saying, doing and thinking, as well as all his advisors, cabinet, etc. I made the mistake during the Clinton years of getting complacent, and figuring Bill would just do "the left thing"....but, shiest! He increased the Drug War, screwed up equality for gays/lesbians, and did not significantly help the health-care debacle. Granted, he did a lot of good things, such as not starting wars, balancing the budget, producing a surplus, etc.
But we lefties must be on Barack's ass about everything, and be unremitting and uncompromising. The two fascist wars that Bush et al started, along with the attempted right wing coup of 9/11, gives us a clear starting point. We must take our righteous anger to the streets and channel it in positive directions to teach Joe six-pack and Soccer-mom Sally that the "liberal agenda" is IN THEIR FAVOR! We also need to seize control of the mainstream media and maginalize fascist monopolies, like FOX, MSNBC etc. We must get the truth to the people (to be cynical, "the unwashed masses") and make the truth simple, understandable and palatable to them.
The pressure is on US, and no other group can do as much good for ourselves (the USA) and the world. It is due to the left and the union movement that we have weekends off, that we have any sort of national health-care (crappy and the world-wide disgrace that it is), and basically freedom of expression in general.
Time has come today! Let us join together and organize, increase unions, march in the street (and not just in San Fran!), demand change, sign countless petitions, personally lobby the president and Congresspeople. They WILL do what we DEMAND that they do. It is our responsibility to make these changes a reality. One last note, regarding something that needs MAJOR reform is the PRISON-INDUSTRIAL-COMPLEX-----there are FAR too many ways to get arrested in the USA. It is, and I am not exaggerating, now like the old Soviet Union at its worst! We MUST dismantle this Machiavellian horrific travesty--and it starts by dismantling the root of it all---The Drug War. Adults must be allowed to put what ever plant, chemical, object or whatever into their own bodies. Without this, we are little more than slaves, clearly indicating that we are OWNED by the State, rather than the State being for the people, of the people, by the people. We must take BACK Cognitive Liberty! It is the root of all other rights.