Progressives Betrayed?


In the New York Times this morning, Paul Krugman writes that "progressives are now in revolt," and that Obama has lost their trust. 

[T]here's a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that's why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.

Now, politics is the art of the possible. Mr. Obama was never going to get everything his supporters wanted.

But there's a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line. It seems as if there is nothing Republicans can do that will draw an administration rebuke. 


Where to start? First of all, it looks to me like Obama has started to call out Republicans for playing politics with health-care reform. I completely agree with the charge: Republicans are most certainly attempting to play this debate for maximum political gain. But so is Obama. That's the name of the game in Washington, and no president, no matter how popular or capable or influential, is going to change that. 

And pinning health-care reform's troubles entirely on Republicans seems like a stretch, at best. Sure, GOP obstructionism is whipping up fervor amongst the base,and that's helped spark the media frenzy. But moderate Democrats have been a big obstacle too. Conservative Republicans were never going to go along with Obama's plan; the more telling problem, I think, is that the administration has failed to court some members of its own party. 

Meanwhile, I wonder: What did progressives expect?

That Obama could simply roll into Washington and ignore the myriad forces arrayed against a liberal agenda? That conservatives, Republicans, moderate Democrats, and interested industry groups would simply go away or shut up? That Obama, through force of will and liberal coolness, could use his awesome rhetorical ju-jujitsu skills to flip the opposition and defeat nutty right-wingers and conservative politicians forever? 

Unless you're a character in an Aaron Sorkin show, that's just not how national politics work. And it's particularly unrealistic given that Obama didn't run as a progressive cage-fighter, but as a calm, pragmatic leader—with progressive sympathies, yes, but nothing like the ferocity of the netroots

Like Kevin Drum said: "Washington is a tough place to get anything done" no matter what side you're on. And if you go in expecting the world—or even incremental but sure-to-be-difficult change—you're bound to be disappointed. 

Cross-posted to The Daily Dish.