Will Obama's Triangulation Cost Him the Support of His Base?
This post was originally published at Hullabaloo.
The lesson of 2000
Jamelle Bouie in The Nation offers a bleak analysis of the liberals' leverage in a world where nobody cares what they think:
[T]his proposal is further evidence that the debt ceiling negotiations were an intentional decision on Obama’s part. The president genuinely believes in deficit reduction, and chose to use the debt ceiling as an opportunity to cut spending with significant bipartisan cover. Obama hasn’t been fooled into these negotiations, nor is he playing rope-a-dope or a complex game of 11-dimensional chess. This is what he wants.
What does this mean for liberals? Well, they can complain and attack Obama — they’ve already begun — but criticism from the left has yet to budge the president, and it’s doubtful that this time will be any different. Demonstrations sound great, but they don’t actually carry a high chance for success; if your only option for changing the political calculations of a president is protest, then you’re probably too late to the game. Likewise, a primary campaign against Obama sounds like it might work, but outside of activist circles, there is little appetite for a challenge. The Democratic establishment is satisfied with President Obama, and will work to ensure his reelection.
Indeed, given the importance of presidential elections, Obama will be able to count on organization and support from every member of the Democratic coalition. Moreover, if a deal comes through, it will probably help him with independents, who support modest reductions in entitlement spending.
Simply put, liberals don’t have much leverage over the Obama administration, which, unfortunately, makes our concerns — and our anger — a second-order consideration at best.
I think this is right. However, if history is any guide, taking the base for granted doesn't always work out the way you think it will. 1968 and 1980 featured primary opponents that chased one president out of the race and mortally wounded another. I don't see that happening this time because there just isn't anyone in the Democratic party who will run against the first African American president. And you can't blame them. That designation has created a terrible backlash from the right and thus it offers protection by the party. It's understandable.
But 2000 offers the more likely possibility, although I don't see any evidence yet that it's going to happen. The Clinton/Gore administration took the left for granted and it ended up with a minor third party bid from Ralph Nader. And that ended up being tremendously significant to the outcome.
There may not be a third party bid and the election may not be close enough for it to make a difference. But if one emerges, as it did in 1992, 1996 and 2000, ignoring the liberals could end up being very relevant. I don't think I need to make the case that if another Florida situation were to arise, the Republicans --- including the Supreme Court --- would play hardball to ensure that every lever of power was used in their favor. And think about the political machines that run swing states right now: Rick Scott in Florida, John Kasich in Ohio, Scott Walker in Wisconsin ...
If there was one lesson I thought every Democrat in the country learned in 2000 it was that every vote counts.