When President Barack Obama lashed out at the liberal base of the Democratic Party condemning many on the Left as "sanctimonious" purists he underscored how profoundly his actions have alienated some of his past supporters and how little he understands why.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Obama compared the current liberal furor over his tax-cut deal with Republicans to the fury on the Left over his abandonment of the "public option" in health-care reform. But the latest anger among progressives reflects more than that; it is a cumulative disgust.
What the Left sees is a politician who ran on a platform of "change" who cited Martin Luther King's "fierce urgency of now" phrase but then blinked at reversing disastrous policies of his recent predecessors. Instead, Obama offered more "continuity," a change of heart that was pleasing to an entrenched Washington/Wall Street Establishment.
Though the cave-in on extending George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich may have exposed the growing void in Obama's support among progressives, the hollowing out of his base has been underway since shortly after his election.
Unlike politicians in Great Britain, Obama and congressional Democrats didn't even conduct fact-finding investigations into how the Bush administration led the nation into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or how Bush waged the "war on terror." Obama insisted on "looking forward, not backward."
Yet, while devising legal rationalizations for not holding Bush and his aides accountable for torture, aggressive war and other serious crimes, the Obama administration has explored novel legal theories for indicting WikiLeaks for releasing internal government documents revealing details about the brutality of Bush's wars and the often cynical U.S. diplomacy that surrounded them.
Obama also infuriated progressives by failing to chart a significantly different course on war policies. He kept Bush's Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon, the first time in history that a newly elected U.S. president of a different party hasn't made a change in that key job.
Gates and other Bush holdovers in the military high command then mouse-trapped Obama into an escalation in Afghanistan by limiting his access to less confrontational options. Obama's Afghan War strategy won praise from Washington's influential neocons but not from Obama's core supporters.
The surrender on the "public option" was also not the minor detail that Obama described at his news conference. Though it's true that the whittled-down version that was finally abandoned would have affected only a few million people, a broader "public option" say, one available to all businesses might have attracted tens of millions and saved trillions of health-care dollars.
But Obama portrayed the "public option" as something of a pet rock for leftists.
"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, showing an uncharacteristic flash of public anger. "People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people.
Bending to Republicans
Yet, as Obama himself has acknowledged, his "signature" health-reform bill and its mandate that Americans must obtain private-sector insurance from profit-making companies was actually scripted by Republicans, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.