There's a lot of back and forth today about Obama's remark the other day at a big money fundraiser criticizing "Democrats" for failing to properly appreciate his accomplishments. Here's what he said:
Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get -- to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed -- oh, well, the public option wasn't there. If you get the financial reform bill passed -- then, well, I don't know about this particular derivatives rule, I'm not sure that I'm satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven't yet brought about world peace and -- (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.) We have had the most productive, progressive legislative session in at least a generation.
Well, I think at least one thing is clear. Robert Gibbs wasn't freelancing with his similar comments.
Regardless of whether you agree with Obama's characterization there, I think most people would agree that it's an odd way to fire up the troops. There seems to be some misapprehension on the part of the DC Dems that trying to browbeat people into appreciating you is smart politics. I'm thinking maybe a little ass kissing at this point might be a little bit more effective.
More importantly, it's a complete misreading of what ails the base. It's not about a bunch of liberal bloggers being pissed about the health care bill or the wars. Sadly, there just aren't enough of us to make a difference. And it's not about a bunch of liberal pundits in DC fretting about "tidal waves." Susie Madrak hits the nail on the head about what's depressing Democratic turnout:
[T]hose of us left living on a wing and prayer thanks to your “half full”, half-assed economic policies just don’t have a sense of humor about our continuing plight. I know it’s been a long time since your mom got food stamps, but you might want to give that empathy thing some thought.
It's not that rank and file Democrats are congenitally unable to celebrate all the wonderful accomplishments of the Obama administration. It's that, like Americans everywhere, they are hurting financially and don't have good feelings about the future. The Republicans are fired up and believe that they can take action to change it by voting for teabaggers. But Dems are stuck in a holding pattern waiting for things to hopefully turn around. They have nowhere to focus their angst so they tune out. In those comments, the president is, at best, ignoring their real issue and saying they don't know how good they have it. It's not helpful.
Now it's true that the administration isn't making this argument in big speeches and Townhalls, so it's hard to know how much of the real base (as opposed to the types who attend $30,000 a plate fundraisers) hears this stuff. But I think they can feel it. The Democratic leadership rarely focuses their rhetoric directly at the base. They run from the labels that make their voters identify with them and they only belatedly take on the opposition in red meat terms (and not very believably.) They clearly think progressivism and partisanship are negatives that will cause them to lose. So if you are a partisan Democrat, it's not unnatural to feel as if they consider you to be a problem.
Unfortunately, midterms are almost always partisan elections, driven by the hardcore base of both parties. Behaving as if your voters are petulant and unappreciative may be therapeutic, and it may even be true, but it doesn't get the job done.