The Agenda

Brief Post on the President and the ‘Professional Left’

On Tuesday, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal wrote a harsh critique of the president, with a focus on his growing distaste for the “professional left”:


Yet the interview reveals one of Obama’s worst character flaws: his insufferably condescending attitude. He is the kind of guy who is convinced he’s always right and suffers from a compulsion to let everyone know he’s right. This attitude is no less unattractive on the rare occasion when he actually is right.

As we noted yesterday, the politics of insult can have a certain snob appeal. When liberal politicians talk down to ordinary Americans, it can energize snooty so-called progressives who think they’re better than everyone else. But even snooty progressives don’t like being talked down to. Because they fancy themselves superior, they probably dislike it with a special intensity. At this rate, it won’t be long before Obama’s only remaining supporter is Barack Obama.

I can’t really speak to the truth of Taranto’s arguments. But they do resonate with a recent post by Peter Daou, a liberal blogger and political strategist:


I’ve argued for some time that the story of Barack Obama’s presidency is the story of how the left turned on him. And it eats him up. You know it from Robert Gibbs, you know it from Rahm Emanuel, you know it from Joe Biden and you know it from Obama himself.

The constant refrain that liberals don’t appreciate the administration’s accomplishments betrays deep frustration. It was a given the right would try to destroy Obama’s presidency. It was a given Republicans would be obstructionists. It was a given the media would run with sensationalist stories. It was a given there would be a natural dip from the euphoric highs of the inauguration. Obama’s team was prepared to ride out the trough(s). But they were not prepared for a determined segment of the left to ignore party and focus on principle, to ignore happy talk and demand accountability.

And in Daou’s view, this sensitivity rests on a perception that the defection of the “professional left” is politically consequential:

I want to emphasize a point I’ve made in previous posts that it’s the merging of left-right opinion that is so damaging to Obama. In other words, Obama could sustain relentless attacks from the right, it’s what everyone expects, but when the left joins in, the bottom drops out. That’s why opinion-shapers in the liberal blogosphere exert inordinate influence over Obama’s fortunes. And from the growing alarm at the White House, it’s clear they know it.

Daou goes on the cite the Rolling Stone interview that so peeved Taranto.

Overall, one gets the impression that when the president surveys the left-of-center media landscape, he senses a great deal of ingratitude. Note, however, that one can make the case that the major legislative successes for progressives were driven more by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s determination to expand the reach of the welfare state in the face of public skepticism and resistance than effective leadership from the White House.

On a tangentially related note, Keith Hennessey has written an illuminating post on an off-the-cuff statement by the president on the nature of the housing crisis that triggered the broader financial crisis. 

Incidentally, I couldn’t agree with Hennessey more on how we should approach the housing market. 


It may be better for us to get the pain out of the way as quickly as possible so the healing can begin, rather than trying to artificially “bridge the gap” with ineffective policies, in hopes that we can protect a few more tens of thousands of homeowners from losing their homes.  Dozens of smart people have suggested alternative policies to avoid or mitigate further housing price declines, and there is an argument that government needs to intervene to stop a self-reinforcing downward spiral.  I don’t buy this argument.

This is a harsh numbers game with no easy answers.  My instinct is for government to stop trying to fix the problem and just let the darn housing market find its natural bottom.

One might argue that “now is not the time.” I certainly understand the political appeal of that argument, and to that end I see the logic in phasing out homeownership subsidies over time. But if we don’t start now, when will we start? 


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