Despite some recent victories like repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," many on the American Left are feeling a cumulative disgust toward President Barack Obama, not just for his generally timid policy choices but -- even more so -- for his failure to articulate and fight for progressive values.
After eight years of getting bullied by President George W. Bush -- and even longer by Fox News, talk radio and congressional Republicans -- many progressives, including many young voters, wanted a passionate advocate in the mold of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, himself a member of the American elite who treated his class with a knowing disdain. They got instead a silver-tongued conciliator who strives for the elite's blessings.
So, even as Obama ticks off his legislative accomplishments -- from helping women get a fair wage in his administration's early days to his Wednesday signing of a law repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" rules for gays in the U.S. military -- the President is not likely to gain much traction with his liberal "base" because he has failed to be what many of them hoped he would be: a battler.
While that estrangement will be difficult for Obama to overcome -- especially given this month's compromise with right-wing Republicans over extending Bush's tax cuts for the rich -- the other question in this troubled marriage between Obama and his angry "base" is whether Obama is entirely at fault.
Or does the Left deserve a share of the blame for its own failures, especially how it sat back over the past few decades as the Right moved ahead in media, think tanks and other elements of an ideological infrastructure? Should the Left be more self-critical about its tendency in recent years to be more a sideline critic than an on-the-field participant?
From some of his public comments, Obama seems to think so. At a Dec. 7 news conference, Obama lashed out at what he depicted as "sanctimonious" purists who preferred to see health-care reform go down to defeat over an insistence that a "public option" be included than accept passage of a purely private-sector approach.
"If that's the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then, let's face it, we will never get anything done," Obama said, with a flash of anger. "People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people.
"And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, in the meantime, the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of pre-existing condition."
Obama's criticism of critics from his "base" recalls the old adage that "familiarity breeds contempt." Much as FDR recognized and disdained the hypocrisies and shortcomings of his fellow members of the American elite, the ex-community organizer seemed to be reacting to tendencies among his progressive allies to dream big and accomplish little.
Instead, Obama chose to rack up legislative "victories," even at the cost of making compromises with conservative Democrats and the occasional Republican who would break party ranks.
Rather than shaking up the System, he sought to stabilize the Establishment. Instead of going after the Wall Street gamblers whose recklessness had pushed the country to the brink of a new depression, he bailed them out.
Instead of fighting for a larger stimulus package to help hard-pressed Americans who were losing jobs and homes, Obama let it be watered down with tax cuts to secure a few Republican votes. Later, he signed a law that imposed only modest reforms on Wall Street's ability to make another mess.
Similarly, he chose not to hold Bush and his neoconservative advisers accountable for war crimes. He didn't even support a fact-finding investigation into how the Bush administration had conned the nation into invading Iraq. He further pleased the neocons by escalating the Afghan War and expanding Bush's use of Predator drones to hunt down militants in Pakistan and Yemen.
Despite campaign promises about government transparency, Obama cracked down on whistleblowers who revealed government wrongdoing. He is letting his Justice Department devise novel legal strategies to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing leaked U.S. government documents.
Also, after having treated health-care reform as his top domestic priority, Obama walked away from a variety of other important issues, including climate-change legislation, union protections and immigration reform.