President Bill Clinton had the ability to seem moderate to moderates and liberal to liberals, perhaps because he was a little of both (and a superb, shameless poser).
President Obama, however, has the ability to seem moderate to liberals and liberal to moderates, and he is unable to please one without turning off the other. He thereby disappoints both. For example:
Gay marriage currently has the Obama team tied up in knots. Here’s the latest media wreck as Obama’s deputy campaign manager tries to defend the indefensible:
Liberals see that and conclude Obama is a squish. But with his “evolving” line, moderates and social conservatives don’t give him any credit for “holding the line” on gay marriage. He’s just being a slippery pol.
Then there is the commemoration of Osama bin Laden’s assassination. The Hill reports on a new poll: “Forty-five percent of likely voters think Obama over-politicized the anniversary, including 65 percent of Republicans. But 46 percent of likely voters asserted that Obama’s approach was ‘about right,’ including 74 percent of Democrats. Independents however, said by a 52 percent to 36 percent margin that the anniversary was politicized.”
Liberals, I suppose, liked his showmanship (maybe because, in their minds, that insulated him from the dovish label applied by conservative), but what pleases them turns off nonliberals. (Interestingly, he’s not impressing the voters at large with his foreign policy skills: “Only 37 percent of likely voters believe Obama has made the United States more respected internationally, versus 42 percent who think the opposite. Seventeen percent don’t think he’s made any difference.”)
And then there is Obama’s approach to the debt. Liberals (a la Paul Krugman) think Obama has been on some austerity kick, snookered by the right into spending less than he could have. (How much could he have? The sky’s the limit!) So the left thinks he’s preoccupied with the debt. Meanwhile, the majority of independents share Republicans’ view that he’s been horribly profligate. He scores poorly on the debt in poll after poll with these voters.
Now before you get misty-eyed in sympathy for the poor, misunderstood president, one should consider whether this is not political karma at work. In 2008 Obama ran as a blank slate, letting liberals think he was a liberal and moderates think he was moderate. In office his rhetoric has often clashed with his actions on everything from tax and entitlement reform (where he’s done nothing effective) to Middle East policy (where he proclaims his devotion to Israel and then tries to muscle the Jewish state on borders, building in Jerusalem and holding back on a strike against its existential threat). Isn’t pleasing no one, therefore, just deserts for a pol who promised everyone what they wanted to hear and then delivered so little?