Eric Alterman has a long-winded piece in The Nation arguing that progressives should give Obama a break. In a nutshell, he says that the right wing has become so loud, has so much money, and has so poisoned the discourse that it is virtually impossible to pass progressive legislation, whether Obama wants to or not. Alterman does a suberb (and exhaustive) job detailing all the right wing evils.
The problem with this argument is that we already knew Republicans, business elites, and other assorted wackos had concocted a toxic political brew before Obama was elected. Obama should have known it too, or at least we thought he did. We elected him to change it! Of course, he gave all those nice speeches about seeking compromise and shared interests among those with divergent views -- but noboby with an shred of common sense believed that bullshit. That was just happy talk to get himself elected ... like his predecessor's "Compassionate Conservatism." We didn't expect him to govern like that. We expected that once in office, he start banging Republican heads. And we expected that he would start working on changing the political playing field immediately.
So what could he have done differently? His first order of business should have been to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, strengthening union organizing. This would have been an easy lift. Second, he should have converted his massive supporter email list into an active force within the Democratic party. Neither of these would have had immediate political payoff, but they would have strengthened progressive forces in the longer run (like, now). But our Community Organizer in Chief forgot to organize, or maybe he really wasn't so progressive after all. But in any event, he took the first opportunity he had to squander his considerable political capital on a Big Policy (healthcare), because, it seems, he thought that would look better on his resume.
Of course, if he pushed for the Employee Free Choice Act, right wingers would have been calling him a socialist and fascist and all kinds of other bad things. But wait, aren't they doing that now?
Pollsters read Obama's latest slide in the polls as an effect of the bad economy. But FDR governed through a much longer depression and maintained his popularity. I think Obama's slide reflects the failure of his post-partisanship. Of course, governing is the art of compromise, but you don't sit down to the bargaining table telling people that. At any rate, that approach has not served Obama well. The backroom deals with drug companies were a stain on healthcare reform. He conceded on offshore drilling in order to get Republican support for a climate change bill, and we see where that went: Deepwater Horizon and no climate change bill. And 2 days ago, we learn from Politco that he has been pushing an education agenda that is deeply unpopular among teachers in order to win US Chamber of Commerce support. (This must be the worst strategy ever: alienate your key supporters to woo those who will never vote for you.)
A few days ago, I heard Obama come on the radio and just flipped the channel. Can't even be bothered to listen any more.