Not Far Enough

by digby

Don't say I didn't warn you:
The conventional wisdom, however, has been that the Democrats are suffering from some sort of political Icarus syndrome. They are flying too high and too soon, and the public disapproval will send them crashing back to earth.

The problem with that rationale, at least in our numbers this week, is that it doesn't match with the data.

Across the board, the drops among Obama and the Democratic Party have come not from the loyal opposition, nor have they come from dismayed Independents.

They have come from Democrats...

Anyone who thinks the protracted arguments over health care aren't frustrating the Democratic base need look no further. A ten-point dip in net favorability, in a single week, is a pretty solid statement.

A quick look at the generic Congressional ballot confirms that the Democrats have shed a great deal of soft supporters over the last few weeks. The margin between the Democrats and Republicans now rests at six points (35-29), the closest we have seen on that question since the item was inserted into the poll a couple of months back. Interestingly, the Republicans have gained virtually nothing over that time. The steady stream of voters no longer willing to commit to the Democrats on the ballot test have almost uniformly gone into the ranks of the undecided.

One of the most common errors in mainstream reporting is the default assumption that when a politician suffers in the polls it's because they are going "too far," whatever that means. They never consider whether it might be because he isn't going far enough.

There are other stupid assumptions as well, such as the silly contention that George W. Bush won the 2004 election on the basis of "moral values," --- meaning conservative moral values. (Had I been exit polled, I would have told the pollster that I voted on the basis of moral values too --- those values telling me that the immoral illegal war in Iraq meant that George W. Bush should be tried as a war criminal.) The biases of the village narrative drive the interpretation of polls in such a way that they actually end up changing public opinion.

This poll shows that Obama is losing altitude alarmingly fast and he's losing it mostly among his own followers. Why? Well, nobody who reads this blog needs to ask that question. (And if you do, just read Paul Krugman and Glenn Greenwald this morning.) There have been a series of issues, one on top of the other and each one more distressing, in which the fundamental principles on which Obama ran have been either betrayed or compromised. It's been too much, too many, in too short a time, from civil liberties to secrecy to cozying up with industry behind closed doors. These aren't minor issues --- they go directly to values and principles.

He's losing trust among the base because he appears to believe that those constituents have no serious claim on his agenda. Even the appointment of Sotomayor did not reflect a liberal commitment beyond the breaking of ethnic barriers, which is wonderful, but cannot be seen as a substitute for progressive principle. Bargaining away the one substantial progressive demand in health care reform is seen as simple bad faith.

I'm not one to trust politicians, but I recognize that most people do, even ardent partisans. They are busy, they don't want to have to follow every detail of the political sturm and drang or try to read between the lines of the NY Times every day to try to figure out what's going on. They more or less inform themselves before an election about what their representatives say they believe in, they assess their sincerity and commitment to certain broad principles and values, and then they leave the governing in their hands, trusting them to do what they said they would do to the best of their ability. Obama promised a lot. A whole lot. And he garnered the trust of many millions of liberal minded folks. When that kind of trust is betrayed, it's very hard to get it back.

I certainly hope they are not fighting the last war. Bill Clinton did not suffer a backlash in his base because he was operating in an environment of conservative dominance and a very weak left flank. The base was desperate and demoralized. But it's not 1996 anymore and that strategy just won't work this time. The conservatives are a clownish group of know-nothings whose approval ratings are in the single digits. They should not, in a democratic society, have the power to shape strategy to the extent they are and the president should not be empowering them. Big business and finance is even more discredited and has no trust among the poeple whatsoever. Openly catering to them in this environment is nothing short of defiant (and politically suicidal.)

Nobody expects that the left will get everything it wants. But they do expect to be treated with respect as a vital constituency in the Democratic Party that has to answer to its voters just as the Blue Dogs do. And those voters are making some demands that must be taken as seriously as those minority conservatives who believe that they are in charge no matter who winselectkions in this country.

Obviously, Obama has to reach out to more than his base as all presidents do, but he also has to recognize that he can't treat them like a bargaining chip. These polls prove that to some extent this is a zero sum game and therefore, he can't be all things to all people. His political capital is dwindling significantly from all directions and he's going to have make some choices.