Obama must protect himself against political attacks from both sides
On Jan. 19, a Maryland weapons owner accused of plotting to kill then-presidential candidate Barack Obama -- reportedly because he didn't like Obama's gun-control positions -- was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison. On that same date, the liberal Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence awarded Obama a grade of "F" for failed leadership on common-sense gun laws.
Message to the president: Watch both flanks.
Obama should certainly cover his right flank given the flak thrown his way since he settled into the Oval Office. The Republicans' campaign has been perpetual, their search for chances to trip him up, endless. Sowing division is the least of their worries. Where they are concerned, if saying no to everything makes Obama look bad, then it's a job well done.
The reason is simple: Republicans don't want comity; they want the White House. And the way to reach it is by going around, over or through Obama.
The president's State of the Union speech showed recognition of that reality. Still, his visit to the House Republicans' annual retreat in Baltimore Friday was a step toward meeting them halfway, and it was good politics.
His mistake, however, will come if he believes his right flank is the only side in need of protection.
There's grumbling in Obama's base. The anger and disappointment are surfacing on liberal blogs, in progressive journals and on some op-ed pages.
Barack Obama, no longer a shining knight, is being accused of breaking campaign promises. His supporters fear he's straying from his party's progressive principles, starting with a freeze on discretionary domestic spending and a large expansion of the defense budget -- both sops, they say, to the right.
His failure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay sticks in their craw, and the surge in Afghanistan reminds them of all that they disliked about George W. Bush's foreign policy.
Some Democrats on the Hill are also scared that Obama will jeopardize what they hold most dear: their jobs. They are shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing angry voters in November with a double-digit unemployment rate and a faltering Obama domestic agenda strapped on their backs.
Hence, the potential rebellion on the left flank.
A week ago, on Gordon Peterson's ABC7 "Inside Washington" show, I surprised my fellow panelists by saying that if the economic slump drags on through the fall, if cuts in liberal domestic programs are seen as political sacrifices, and if Democrats take a beating at the polls in November, Barack Obama can expect to have a fight on his hands in 2012. And the challenge won't come only in the general election. He might be faced with a challenger in the Democratic primary.