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The Liberals' Lament

The president is facing the perfect storm this fall: Conservative commentators denigrate him every hour or so, while some liberal pundits are feeling downright scorned.

When a Republican president is under siege, he can usually depend on the right-wing punditocracy to buck him up. George W. Bush had that until the last couple of years of his term.

Barack Obama is getting little of that, perhaps because he raised hopes on the left so dramatically, perhaps because some of those folks demand ideological purity. (Remember the endless debates about the public option?)

If only he would show more passion, they say, and not be so afraid of offending the center.

n a piece titled "Mr. Unpopular," Time magazine asks: "Where did the adoration go?" Well, some of the adoration came from journalists; Time ran a post-election cover portraying Obama as FDR, complete with jaunty cigarette holder. But now that Obama's down in the polls, the media are down on him.

Never mind that he delivered health care reform and financial reform. He is not connecting with his liberal base on a visceral level. Remember when the demands that he kick BP's ass, and before that some Wall Street butt?

In Slate, Jake Weisberg delivers the indictment of "Obama's Moral Cowardice":

"Obama has had numerous occasions to assert leadership on values issues this summer: Arizona's crude anti-immigrant law, the battle over Prop 8 and gay marriage, and the backlash against what Fox News persists in calling the 'Ground Zero mosque.' These battles raise fundamental questions of national identity, liberty, and individual rights. When Lindsey Graham argues for rewriting the Constitution to eliminate the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, or Newt Gingrich proposes a Saudi standard for the free exercise of religion, they're taking positions at odds with America's basic ideals. But Obama's instinctive caution has steered him away from casting these questions as moral or civil rights issues. On none of them has he shown anything resembling courage...

"Few would argue that defending liberal principles serves Obama's short-term interests. Americans oppose the mosque 61-26 according to one recent poll, and support the Arizona law by an even wider margin. But even if some people don't like Islam, or illegal immigrants, or gay weddings, they may respond to admonitions that our society is built around freedom of conscience and equal treatment under law. If he applied his literary gifts to these principles, it would give Obama's depressed Democratic base something to be excited about. It could remind a grumbling nation what it liked about him in the first place."

WP's Richard Cohen sees an incredible shrinking presidency: "It is clear by now that Obama has allowed others to define him. For this, Obama needs to blame Obama. His stutter-step approach to certain issues - his wimpy statements regarding the planned Islamic center in Manhattan, for instance -- erodes not just his standing but his profile. What we thought we knew, we do not. Like a picture hung in the sun, he fades over time."

The midterm elections won't turn on whether liberal columnists and bloggers have lost patience with Obama. But if they're a reflection of liberal voters who wind up staying home, the Dems are in deep trouble.

By Howard Kurtz  |  September 7, 2010; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  Latest stories  
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