The fading embers of Obama's coalition

By Marc A. Thiessen
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

With midterm elections less than four months away, Republicans are fired up and ready to go. But they are not the only ones upset with Barack Obama. The president has also angered many of the key Democratic constituencies he needs to keep control of the House and Senate, and now Democrats are blowing furiously on the fading embers of their electoral coalition, hoping to stave off disaster this November. In the process they are abdicating their responsibilities to govern -- failing to pass a budget or any of their annual spending bills, while using their executive and legislative powers to appease their special interests instead. It is a far cry from the hope and change they promised two years ago.

Take organized labor. Unions are incensed with Obama and congressional Democrats for their failure to deliver on key priorities such as card-check legislation. Gerry McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, complained earlier this year, "We can't get anything done for the people we represent." The White House made things worse by publicly ridiculing the AFL-CIO for supporting a primary challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), prompting the union to fire back: "Labor isn't an arm of the Democratic Party."

To repair the breach, Democrats have turned their legislative agenda over to the unions. Instead of moving appropriations bills, they are pushing legislation that would shield unions from the campaign finance reporting requirements of the Disclose Act and force the unionization of public-safety workers in 21 states. And they have allowed the teachers unions to hijack the war funding bill for our troops, and the Teamsters to hijack the FAA authorization bill over a provision to make it easier to organize FedEx. Whether this will be enough to overcome the animosity of organized labor remains to be seen, but it can only feed the animosity of Americans who believe Congress is failing to do its job.

Another disenchanted constituency is Hispanics. Latino support for Obama has dropped 12 points since the start of the year, as anger has grown over the Democrats' failure to make immigration reform a priority. Instead of putting forward legislation, Obama delivered a speech this month in which he laid the blame for his failure to act on Republican "demagoguery." Then last Tuesday, the administration filed a lawsuit in federal court to block Arizona's immigration law. This was unnecessary, according to Kris Kobach, the former Justice Department official who helped draft the Arizona law, because the law was already being challenged by the ACLU and other groups: The issue was already tied up in the courts. The Justice Department doesn't add anything by bringing its own lawsuit. These actions were designed to bolster Hispanic support, but they doomed any hope of bipartisan cooperation on immigration. Democrats appear more interested in posturing to win Hispanic votes than getting something accomplished for Hispanic voters. But the strategy may backfire if Latinos see through the charade, and the Arizona lawsuit ends up bringing down Democrats facing tough reelection battles in the West.

The drop in Hispanic support is dwarfed by the astounding 36-point drop in support for Obama from one of the most reliable Democratic constituencies: Jewish voters. Jewish Americans are outraged with Obama, says former New York Mayor Ed Koch. And it's not because Obama's middle name is Hussein. Obama alienated many in the Jewish community by reaching out to Iran while relentlessly criticizing Israel. He excoriated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his plans to build new Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, raising concerns that he was abandoning long-standing U.S. policy that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel. Then, Obama added insult to injury by humiliating Netanyahu in March, refusing to have a picture taken with him and leaving him waiting for over an hour at the White House while Obama had dinner with his family.

Sensing the political damage, Obama has begun to backtrack. After opposing legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program -- a top legislative priority for Jewish groups -- Obama suddenly reversed course and two weeks ago invited Jewish leaders to a White House ceremony where he signed the bill into law. Then last week Obama invited Netanyahu for an Oval Office photo op, heaping praise on the Israeli leader and declaring "the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable."

Jewish Americans may be forgiven for suspecting that Obama's sudden enthusiasm for Israel has less to do with his desire for a two-state solution than his desire for a solution in two states -- Florida and Pennsylvania -- where Jewish voters and donors could play a critical role in tight Senate races. Bottom line: Republicans are riding a wave of voter enthusiasm, while Democrats are fighting a rip current of bitterness among many of their core constituencies. To avoid getting swept out to sea, they are pandering desperately. But for those they are trying to appease, it may be too little too late. And for the rest of America, it is a sad reminder that change we can believe in has given way to politics as usual.

Marc A. Thiessen is a visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and the author of "Courting Disaster." He writes a weekly column for

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