Jonathan Chait of The New Republic had an op-ed in the New York Times this past weekend that pretty much sums up the situation that President Obama has in dealing with critics from his left flank.
The most common hallmark of the left’s magical thinking is a failure to recognize that Congress is a separate, coequal branch of government consisting of members whose goals may differ from the president’s. Congressional Republicans pursued a strategy of denying Obama support for any major element of his agenda, on the correct assumption that this would make it less popular and help the party win the 2010 elections. Only for roughly four months during Obama’s term did Democrats have the 60 Senate votes they needed to overcome a filibuster. Moreover, Republican opposition has proved immune even to persistent and successful attempts by Obama to mobilize public opinion. Americans overwhelmingly favor deficit reduction that includes both spending and taxes and favor higher taxes on the rich in particular. Obama even made a series of crusading speeches on this theme. The result? Nada.
Liberal critics of Obama, just like conservative critics of Republican presidents, generally want both maximal partisan conflict and maximal legislative achievement. In the real world, those two things are often at odds. Hence the allure of magical thinking.
What Mr. Chait leaves out is the fact that Mr. Obama was not dealing with your father’s Congress, either, nor was he dealing with rational discourse outside the halls of Congress. Considering the rank insanity of the birthers, the tenthers, and an opposition party that would veto a Mother’s Day resolution because HE proposed it, it’s a wonder that he was able to get anything done at all, much less a stimulus package that was nearly double the size of the original Democratic proposal, the rescue of the American auto industry, the most sweeping overhaul to healthcare since Roosevelt, the end of the pernicious Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law, the removal of a dictator who has been in power since 1969 without one American casualty, and — oh yeah — the killing of the mastermind of the attacks that we’re commemorating this week.
And for all that, the some on the left wants to mount a primary challenge. They don’t say exactly who they will get. But if history is any guide, it will come to naught. Every imcumbent president in living memory who has faced a serious primary challenge for their second term has gone on to win the nomination and lose the general election. So if you want Rick Perry in the White House, by all means Go Tom Harkin 2012.