The Contentment Surplus.

The New York Times looks into President Obama’s increasingly vocal efforts to energize the Democratic base for November’s elections:

But Mr. Obama has aimed much of his prodding — and not a small amount of personal pique — at the liberals most deflated by the first two years of his presidency. Assuming that many independents are out of reach, White House strategists are counting on Mr. Obama to energize, cajole, wheedle and even shame the left into matching the Tea Party momentum that has propelled Republicans this year.

As he holds rallies aimed at college students and minority groups, sends e-mail to his old list of campaign supporters and prepares to host a town hall-style meeting on MTV, the president essentially is appealing to his liberal base to put aside its disappointment in him. Without offering regrets for policy choices that have angered liberals, Mr. Obama argues that the Republican alternative is far worse.

I’m not sure that this will do much to help; the problem for Democrats is less that their base is disappointed and more that it is fairly content with the administration and its accomplishments. According to Gallup, 81 percent of self-identified Democrats and 73 percent of liberals approve of Obama, as do 90 percent of African Americans, 61 percent of Hispanics, and 57 percent of young voters. As I wrote in my column yesterday, Democrats are facing a “contentment surplus” far more than they are dealing with an enthusiasm gap. What’s more, this was probably unavoidable; nothing creates contentment like meeting a goal, and the goal for nearly all Democrats in 2008 was electing a Democratic president and a large Democratic majority. The only way Democrats could have managed high enthusiasm this year is if Republicans were already in control of Congress. Which would have been bad, to say the least.

The simple truth is that progressive majorities are rare and fragile; there simply isn’t much Democrats can do to keep their 2008 coalition from collapsing. Indeed, insofar that we’re watching anything, we’re watching the country return to an equilibrium, where conservatives have a slight advantage in Congress, and liberals use their limited power to score small victories and defend big ones.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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