“Harry Reid abdicates his leadership role,” reads the headline at the lefty Daily Kos Web site. “Why Joe Biden should resign,” reads the headline at the Huffington Post. “Whiner in Chief,” reads the headline at The Nation, referring to President Obama.
Self-styled progressives across the country are angry, not just at Obama, but at the rest of the Democratic power structure, as well. That anger is causing an ugly split inside the Washington Democratic world.
“Can I speak freely about the liberal whiners?” asks a well-connected Democratic strategist. “These are the same people who have never participated in, much less won, a campaign, who have no idea what it takes to maintain a majority and keep a speaker of our party, who want Obama to kowtow to the loony Left, and then they're going to be the ones who say, 'What happened?' in November 2010, when we lose the House and possibly the Senate and maybe a lot of governorships.”
The White House, too, is growing sick of the whiners. NBC's John Harwood recently reported that Team Obama views the complainers as part of the “Internet Left fringe,” and that one White House adviser said, “Those bloggers need to take off their pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely dividedcountry is complicated and difficult.”
Although the White House later tried to walk back its own anonymous venting, the damage was done. “Old anonymous is, of course, full of s–t,” writes prominent liberal blogger Jane Hamsher, noting that Obama's poll numbers suffered with Democrats after the president all but abandoned the public option in the national health care debate.
While Obama is taking hits, Democrats in Congress are getting it full force. “Reid is poison,” one reader of Daily Kos writes of the Senate majority leader. “He has NO, NADA, NONE interest in any of the progressive parts of the president's agenda,” another writes. “Traitorous little weasel,” a third writes. “The same goes for Pelosi,” writes yet another, of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It doesn't matter that the netroots activists dislike Republicans far more; the fact is, they're deeply unhappy with their own party — the party led by what Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas calls “ineffective corporatist Dems.”
The feud is entertaining for the media, but the Democrats face a very real problem:Dissatisfaction with the party has spread beyond the Internet fringe. Recent Gallup polling shows that Congress' job approval among Democrats plunged in September, from 54 percent to 36 percent — an 18-point drop in the course of a single month.
There simply can't be that many people in pajamas. Mainstream, non-progressive, non-pajama Democrats are now decidedly unhappy with the performance of their leaders in Congress. The presence of unbeatable Democratic majorities — 256 Democrats in the House and 60 in the Senate, backed up by a Democratic president — has made rank-and-file Democrats less, rather than more, satisfied.
The problem for Obama, and for Reid and Pelosi, is that there is no one solution to the problem. Some of the unhappy Democrats are unhappy because they believe their leaders are moving too far to the center, while others are unhappy because they believe their leaders are moving too far to the Left. There are no precise polling numbers to measure the division, but for months now, Gallup surveys have shown that Obama's job approval rating among people who call themselves conservative Democrats is 15 to 20 points below his rating among those who call themselves liberal Democrats. And now the liberal Democrats are becoming increasingly unhappy. It's just not possible to please them all.
What to do? “Triangulate, baby, triangulate,” the Democratic strategist says. The netroots fringes are not only the loudest but also the least liked segment of the Democratic Party. If Obama, as well as Reid and Pelosi, are seen as standing up to the extremes on their side, that can't hurt with moderate and conservative Democrats, as well as with the independents who have been abandoning the president in droves.
“Some disappointment and carping on the Left is good for Obama politically,” the strategist explains. “He needs to manage the Left well enough that he gets a [health care] bill passed, but not well enough that they shut up completely.”
There seems little danger of the latter ever happening. The real question is whether the Democrats' circular firing squad will kill the president's agenda.
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appear on www.ExaminerPolitics.com ExaminerPolitics.com.