Jonathan Chait writes about the liberal freakout against Obama over at MSNBC. John Podhoretz links this disaffection to the expectations that Obama aroused during the campaign. I think I agree more with Chait that the liberals who are currently so upset are having their judgments distorted by a too romantic a view of the policymaking process and a distorted view of the New Deal. I also agree with Jonah Goldberg that expectations of New Deal-type change and liberal political dominance were always a delusion. The Republican Party is much more unified and confident than during FDR's first term. I think just as important, the economy improved through FDR's first term.. It was from a low base, but FDR's policies coincided with rising growth and lower unemployment. Regardless of the real cause of economic improvement, FDR's policies seemed to be working. The unemployment rate is now over two percentage points higher than when Obama took over.
This liberal disaffection with Obama is not deserved. He managed to get a stimulus bill through Congress that was many times bigger than the one Clinton failed to get in 1993. Obama's health care plan puts us on the road to a single-payer system, and getting off that road will be really tough. The votes for card check and cap and trade were never there and nothing Obama said or did were going to change that. He played his hand (from a liberal perspective) about as well as could be expected.
I think the biggest cause of the liberal disaffection with Obama comes from looking at the poll numbers and knowing that the Republicans will make big gains in November and also knowing that the window for passing transformational liberal legislation is closing. Obama looks weak and confused. Why doesn't he go out there and kick the butts of the oil spill and Congress and get things done?
But there will be a reconciliation. If and when the labor market begins to recover and Obama's job approval goes above 50, those same liberals who are now so critical of Obama will notice that Obama will be able to plausibly point to the stimulus as the cause of the recovery (not because thats the truth of course) and use that "success" as an argument for an even more government-run economy. Perhaps the economy would do even better with a "green stimulus." The health care system will have been restructured so as to become ever more statist as time goes on. An Obama reelection would likely consolidate these liberal gains and maybe produce a solidly liberal and confidently activist majority on the Supreme Court. Then these same liberals will look at Obama like some combination of a saint, action hero and Einstein. The reality will be that Obama will always have been the same guy: an articulate, shrewd, flawed, ambitious, social democratic-leaning liberal with a knack for moving the country as leftwards as possible without destroying his administration.