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The Obama Wars: Why Do We Tear Each Other Apart Over Whether the President Is a Failure or Success?

The debate over Obama's role in the mess we're in is distracting progressives from the real fight.

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Yet the message is as hopelessly naive in the real world of American politics as it is appealing on the stump, and for a simple reason: it assumes that the GOP -- dominated as it is by "movement conservatives" in the Delay-Rove mold -- and it's corporate backers are interested in engaging in a thoughtful debate over how to make America a better country. If that were the case, then bridging the divide through calm words and negotiation would certainly be better by leaps and bounds than the ugly brand of politics we have today.

Finally, the Obama Wars are an extension of long-standing liberal debates about how much fealty the Democratic Party merits. You can go back to Ralph Nader's 2000 bid, or earlier, and the question of how much support to lend to Democrats as they triangulate away progressive principles is just as divisive today. Obama's supporters argue that the incessant negativity among liberal pundits – the “professional left” – can only depress Democratic turnout and serve the eventual Republican nominee. This seems a misunderstanding of the role of journalists – even progressive opinion journalists. If making poor compromises and embracing conservative narratives disheartens the base, that rests on the administration itself, not people analyzing the effects of those choices.

Having said that, there is a real danger that refusing to acknowledge the administration’s accomplishments has the potential to sour activist zeal in the run-up to the election. But so far, that doesn't appear to be the case. While Obama saw a decline in liberal support during the debt ceiling negotiations, he still remains quite popular with the base. As of late July, Obama enjoyed a higher approval rating among Democrats at this point in his presidency than any president since FDR – higher than Clinton, Kennedy or Truman. Recent polls show that 72 percent of self-identified liberals (and 77 percent of Democrats) approve of the job Obama has done – a number one would be surprised to discover after reading liberal blogs and listening to progressive talk-radio.

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