Wednesday, September 8, 2010

So Much Bad Advice... (but not from me)

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post repeats an oft made argument among Liberals that Barack Obama's woes are not the result of Democratic overreach and the pursuit of a left of center political agenda outside of the American mainstream. Sargent writes:
Dem losses this fall will be largely due to the economy and unemployment, which would have been far worse today without the stimulus. What's more, Obama didn't govern from the far left: Health care reform and even Wall Street reform were arguably moderate solutions to serious crises that demanded urgent attention. And regardless of the politics, Dems campaigned on a promise to do these things -- and they were substantively the right things to do.
Sargent, like others, argues that the President has not pursued a far left agenda, so any suggestions that he should move to the center, scale back his agenda, or view the upcoming midterm elections as a repudiation of his policies are based on a faulty premise.

The faulty premise, of course, is that offered by Sargent and others - that President Obama's troubles are not the result of the public's rejection of his liberal agenda. That is exactly the source of the President's troubles. The crucial error that Sargent and other defenders of the faith have made is to measure liberalism by their standards as opposed to those of most Americans. The fact that far left Liberals do not believe that the president has pursued a far left agenda tells us precious little about anything other than the policy preferences of far left Liberals.

According to nearly every survey, including the most recent from Democracy Corps, roughly 20% of Americans identify themselves as Liberal, 30% as Moderate, and 45% as Conservative. Given that only 20% of the electorate is Liberal it matters far more what the other 80% of voters think about the President's policies. According to Gallup, the President enjoys a 77% approval rating among Liberals (so though folks like Sargent may contend that the President's policies have been "moderate solutions" Liberals have been quite satisfied with those solutions). Among Moderates, President Obama's approval rating stands at 53% and Among Conservatives (the largest ideological group in America) the President's approval rating rests at a dismal 22%.

With regard to perceptions of the President's politics and ideology an ABC News/Washington Post survey found that 45% of registered voters consider the President to be "Too Liberal." An equal share consider his views to be "About Right." It may seem ok for those two numbers to be equal, but the trend is telling - in January of 2009 only 29% described the President as "Too Liberal" and 65% described him as "About Right." Since his inauguration, there has been a 50% increase in the perception that the President is "Too Liberal."

Obama and the Democrats have not lost the support of Democratic voters. Obama's approval rating among Democrats is 79% - nearly the same as it was one year ago. The problem for Democrats is the loss of Independent voters; 50% approved of Obama's job last November, but today that number stands at 39%. With regard to Congress, 90% of Democrats intend to vote for a Democrat in 2010, but Independents prefer the GOP by a margin of 45% to 33%. In November of 2006, Independents favored Democrats 51% to 26%. Democrats have lost the middle.

Consider as well what has happened with regard to the public's preferences - a Pew survey released last April asked in people preferred bigger government and more services or smaller government and less services - since President Obama assumed office the share opting for smaller government and fewer services has grown dramatically. Regardless of how "moderate" some may consider health reform or financial regulatory reform, or the stimulus bill - the simple fact is that each did expand the size and scope of the federal government during an time when the public was increasingly opposed to such expansion.

Sargent laments "... I really hope that Dems in positions of power will not succumb entirely to this pre-ordained Beltway interpretation..." that a midterm fiasco for Democrats means a rejection of liberal policies and a need to move to the center.

In fact, the President and Democrats need to resist the urge to give in to Sargent's meme. The President may not have pursued an agenda as far left as the Far Left would prefer (compared to most European Democracies his agenda has been anything but liberal), but he has pursued an agenda to the left of the American mainstream and his present unpopularity and the difficult election season awaiting Democrats speak to that simple truth.

America is a center right country, it was when it elected a Democratic Congress in 2006 and President Obama in 2008, and it remains one today. Walter Shapiro summed it up quite well when he wrote "the president's fatal error was that he saw the 2008 election as a mandate for far-reaching change when, in truth, it was a narrower political rejection of Bush-administration economic and military policies". Given that reality, the President's best course of action would be a course correction and a shift to the middle - only time will tell if he makes the right choice.