Last week, at a fundraiser for supporters of the Connecticut Democratic Party, President Obama made a few jokes at the expense of liberal activists:
OBAMA: Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get — to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there. If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don’t know about this particularly derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace and — (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.) We have had the most productive, progressive legislative session in at least a generation.
Naturally, Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald were outraged; Hamsher says that it is "awfully glib for Obama to now belittle the people who worked hard to get him elected for always seeing the glass 'half empty' if they’re disappointed about the public option." And Greenwald offers this summary of Obama's remarks, "In other words, you're just a petulant, unreasonable, unrealistic, fringe child who doesn't appreciate the greatness and generosity he's given you."
Obviously, there are areas where Obama has left much to be desired: Climate change legislation is a pipe dream, and comprehensive immigration reform is only slightly more likely. The administration has been too quick to appease conservative Democrats, and slow to accomodate its allies on the left. His moves on gay rights have been agonizingly slow, and on most things relating to civil liberties and the "war on terror," he has adopted the Bush/Cheney position wholesale (and then some). That said, I don't think Obama was completely wrong to poke fun at liberal activists; between the stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, and the stimulus bill, the Obama administration has passed some of the most progressive legislation in more than a generation. If Obama were a Republican, and these were conservative policies, his success would have at least brought a short respite from activist criticism. Instead, he has to contend with a base that forms the circular firing squad at the drop of a hat. It's the kind of thing that inspires justifiable frustration.
Jonathan Chait used this line to sum up his thoughts on liberals who are perennially disappointed with Democratic presidents, "If you're a liberal and you think every Democratic president is a disappointment, then you need to recalibrate your expectations." I think that applies here.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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