A lot of things have changed for Barack Obama since 2008, as inevitably happens when a largely unknown, charismatic challenger becomes a well-known and battle-damaged incumbent.
But perhaps the most dramatic evolution, and likely the most dangerous, for Mr. Obama’s re-election chances, is the stiffening narrative among liberals that this is a man who lacks the moral vision to lead.
A lot has been made of the headwind that the Obama campaign faces in conservative media.
But more damaging is the fact that left-of-center media outlets from the Huffingtonpost to Salon to Democracy Now — and liberal icons from Bill Maher to Jon Stewart — have been hammering at the idea that this Administration lacks a clear and meaningful compass.
Exhibit A in their prosecution of Mr. Obama is his relentless pursuit of terrorists, and his embrace of Homeland Security measures first envisioned during the Bush years.
Writing in Salon, prominent liberal write Glenn Greenwald suggested this week that the Obama years have shown “how extremism is normalized.”
Now we have this question: if the U.S. President can openly declare the power to order even the nation’s own citizens executed by the CIA in total secrecy, without charges or a whiff of transparency or oversight, what can’t he do?
Responding to the news that the Obama administration developed a “kill list” for alleged terrorists, Jason Linkins reported on the left-of-center backlash for the Huffingtonpost, which described the issue as “a test of Obama’s principles and will.”
Well, in response to this, one concerned citizen has taken to the White House’s “We The People” petitions portal to request the creation of a “Do Not Kill” list, which perhaps should be known as the “Please Consider According Me the Due Process of Law That I’m Constitutionally Entitled to Before You Allow Me to Be Summarily Executed by Joystick-Wielding Sociopaths” list.
For many left-of-center pundits, the national security issue fits neatly with a growing conviction that Obama has “centered” himself well to the right of their own moral comfort zone.
Guantanomo Bay remains open. Mr. Obama has made no effort to decriminalize marijuana, despite evidence of his own drug use. His stand on climate change has ranged from tepid to silent.
Until recently, he refused to take a stand supporting same-sex marriage, and still won’t support an effort to legalize gay weddings on a Federal level.
Mr. Obama’s administration has also accelerated efforts to identify and deport undocumented workers, many of them Hispanics.
It’s worth noting that while pundits and journalists on the left are disenchanted — even furious — with Obama’s political and moral tilt, average Americans don’t seem to share that view. This from a Gallup report earlier this month:
In fact, 54% of all Americans say that Obama is more liberal than they are, while 9% say he is more conservative than they are. Looked at differently, if we just examine the pool of those who say that Obama’s ideology is different than theirs, 86% of this group say he is more liberal than they are.
Thus, basically in American politics today (or at least in the swing states), you either think that Obama is more liberal than you are, or that his ideology is the same as yours.
Naturally, this perception of Obama as being more liberal is driven by Republicans, almost eight in 10 of whom say that Obama is more liberal than they are. Importantly, independents also tilt that way, with 59% saying that Obama is more liberal than they are.
One would imagine that Democrats would be more likely to say that Obama shares their ideology. This is generally the case, although not overwhelmingly so. About six in 10 Democrats say that Obama is about the same as they are. But, almost a quarter say Obama is more liberal than they are (14% say that Obama is more conservative than they are).
Which puts Mr. Obama in a tough spot, one perhaps symbolized by his public embrace of same-sex marriage. It was a move he probably needed to make, in order to quell some of the discontent among liberal activists and pundits.
But if he shifts too far in that direction, he will likely lose even more independents, and perhaps a significant chunk of moderate Democrats, as well.
I think we’ll see by the end of summer whether the liberal argument against Mr. Obama will be crippling. We’ll see this question answered first in voter enrollment and fundraising numbers.
If liberal attacks continue, and if enough of those 14% of Democrats who stand to the left of the President decide to write him off, then it may be game-over.
Particularly in tipping point states like Colorado, New Hampshire, and Virginia that look more and more like must-wins, a big surge is needed on college campuses, in gay communities, from Hispanics, and from environmental groups.
Will those liberal constituencies fight for a candidate who they view as morally compromised? We’ll see.