In a single year Obama lost the support of independent voters and liberal Republicans by passing the left's agenda. And this year, he is well on the way to losing the support of the left for not passing enough of their agenda. Being too left wing for mainstream America, and too mainstream for the left is not a new problem for the Democratic party. It's a problem they've faced since what had been the counterculture became the party establishment. But it's a special problem for the man who rose to power as the poster child of the left. Barack Hussein Obama.
The main two contenders were John Edwards and Barack Obama. Initially Edwards looked like the better candidate to sell America on the left's agenda by wrapping it up in the sugary rhetoric of compassion with some obligatory JFK New Frontier homages. But to many Edwards seemed like yet another version of Bill Clinton, a Southern Democrat who spoke the progressive language, but had enough realpolitik to draw the line at his own political welfare. And as it turned out, Edwards shared yet another of Clinton's proclivities which made him politically unsuitable. Obama was a bigger risk, but he came with "deep backing" from luminaries like Ayers. The only obstacle for the party was to make him seem mainstream enough to be electable. Which they did by wrapping him in the flag at every opportunity and keeping his rhetoric focused away from specifics and toward high minded generalities.
The left thought it had its candidate. So did the party. Both spent a great deal of money to put him in the White House, but neither of them really spent very much time thinking about who Barack Hussein Obama really was. Obama's native instincts as the eternal outsider allowed him to wear numerous disguises. And so he had no really trouble finessing a new set of dual identities, as both a radical and a moderate at the same time. But the problem with maintaining contradictory identities is that sooner or later you have to commit. The agenda of the left and that of the party were not completely incompatible. Both for example wanted socialized medicine and cap and trade. But the main priority for the Democratic party leadership was getting to power and staying there. For the left however, the agenda always comes first. And both naturally assumed that Obama shared their priorities. Careerism for the party. And ideology for the left.
What neither of them considered was that Obama was even more of a fraud than Edwards or Clinton. Because Obama was not just hiding mere run of the mill political hypocrisy or personal infidelity, he was living a lie in a much more profound way. Politicians commonly pretend to care about things to appeal to voters. But Obama had been pretending to care about things all his life. He had spent the better part of his life playing the chameleon, and this made him a natural politician, but underneath all that was a coldness and detachment that exceeded that of any normal politician. Obama had learned quickly that identity is more defined by the things you care about, than the country you come from or the color of your skin. There was only one problem, he didn't care about any of those things. He cared only about himself.
The administration that Obama put together was a compromise. Clinton people out front and the radicals just behind them. The Clinton people were there to reassure the party, but often they had titles, but not real power or access. The radicals were there to reassure the left that everything was going according to plan. Obama came into office with a halo and golden wings, surrounded by propaganda more worthy of North Korea, than the United States of America. The left assumed that this would give him unlimited power. Saner Democrats knew better and assumed that the White House did too. What followed was the usual "Pigs at the Trough" scene as the victors dug in and began feeding off the crisis. Stimulus and bailout, takeover and take home checks.
For Obama it was an endless party, an extension of his campaign but with more stature and a bigger budget. Plane trips anywhere he wanted. Vacation homes. Glamorous parties and dinners. The D.C. party circuit that had been moribund during 8 years of Bush was back with a vengeance. For his associates, it was a chance to cash in. For the left, it was about pushing their agenda, their way. Everyone was acting as if they had won the Superbowl, when what they had really won was a chance to be responsible for a major economic crisis. And internally no one was happy. Obama had protected himself by playing divide and conquer, setting up conflicts within his administration, while he stood back and let them fight it out. This aggravated the existing fault lines within the Democratic camp and created the appearance of an absentee landlord.
Democratic party insiders began to see Obama as oddly distant and a neophyte lacking in basic management skills. The left meanwhile was becoming increasingly irritated because they weren't getting their way often enough. The left wanted radical change, while party politicians wanted to stay in power. Obama had to choose between two sides. Mainstream party donors who wanted stability and radical donors and their grass roots networks who wanted radical change. A talented politician might have been able to keep both sides working together. Obama was not the man for the job. And while he was trying to keep both sides happy, he was thoroughly alienating mainstream Americans.
Obamacare was when it all went south, as a panicked Democratic congress was herded into supporting a wildly unpopular plan. A plan that an embittered left thought didn't go far enough, but turned independent voters into Tea Party supporters. It was the ugliest and biggest pork pie in a series of them, which nobody but Joe Biden seemed happy about.
Alienating the left was a dangerous thing to do, because they were the ones who had provided Obama with a radical halo. This was what drove the press to treat him as the love child of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, to shamelessly drool all over him, and denounce any and all opponents of him as ruthlessly as a Pravda editorial. Ideology is the messianism of the left. And as the left grows dissatisfied with Obama-- his ideological halo dims, and the media begins to stir and ask uncomfortable questions.
The Democrats have lost faith in Obama's political invulnerability. Candidates are actively ducking his endorsements even in primary races. The left meanwhile is losing faith in Obama's revolutionary conscience, his willingness to do whatever it takes to push their agenda through. Communist regimes usually purged their own ranks after a revolution to get rid of the fire breathers, who become an inconvenience once the practical issues of governance have to be decided. Previous Democratic administrations did not have gulags or firing squads at their disposal, they simply sidelined the left and let them protest impotently. Obama has not taken that road yet, mainly because he comes from the left, and because such a purge would thoroughly alienate his non-minority base. But he may not have a choice.
In 2008, Obama ran against the War in Iraq, against economic malaise and an out of touch administration. It's 2010 and as far as his base is concerned, nothing has really changed. Which means they're less likely to bother voting and more likely to invest their energies into backing even more marginal candidates on the left. Another year of this and the only people who will still be invested in an Obama Administration are the people making money off his bailouts, programs and laws. And that can only repulse the public even more.
Obama alienated the center by pandering to his base and alienated his base by not giving them everything they wanted right away. The Democratic party has stopped celebrating him and come to the realization that for the next few years they're stuck with him. The left is teetering on the edge of throwing him over for another socialist knight in rotten armor. And as his base collapses, he has few options left.