The Divided Democratic Party

For the most part, I'm on board with criticizing President Obama for his handling of the shutdown deal, his public enthusiasm for the GOP-driven budget cuts, and his general failure to "lead" on progressive issues. That said, I think it's worth noting the extent to which Obama isn't -- and hasn't ever -- been backed by a unified congressional caucus.

Among Democrats in last year's House of Representatives, according to National Journal's vote rankings, the liberal "spread" was 57 points. That is, the most liberal member of the Democratic caucus -- California's Linda Sanchez -- was 57 points more liberal than the least liberal member of the Democratic caucus, Mississippi's Gene Taylor. On the opposite end, the most conservative member of the Republican caucus, Ohio's Jim Jordan, was only 38 points more conservative than its least conservative member (Louisiana's David Cao). Overall, the House Democratic caucus had 37 members with composite liberal scores of 50 or below, while the Republican caucus enjoyed a group devoid of liberals. Indeed, the least conservative Republican was still more conservative than virtually every other Democrat (with the exception of four), with a composite conservative score of 57 points.

In other words, vanishingly few elected Republicans are interested in anything approaching egalitarianism, but a non-trivial number of Democrats support deep spending cuts and oppose tax increases. And this is to say nothing of the simple fact that Democrats rely on moderates for votes, and work with an electorate that prefers compromise to confrontation.

Which is to say this: Yes, progressives are well within their rights to demand a little spine from Obama, but that has to come with a recognition that -- in doing so -- he would be working at cross-purposes from a significant number of Democratic voters and congressional Democrats.

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