Yglesias on President Obama’s Base Credibility

20 06 2011

I don’t read Matthew Yglesias every day, so I may very well be missing some context here–but what exactly is he trying to say with this post? Reacting to the criticism of President Obama by liberal activists at Netroots Nation, Yglesias gleefully points out (after some perfunctory race-baiting) that those critics have less credibility with the voting base of the Democratic Party than the President himself:

Nothing earth-shattering. But a reminder that the proximate problem faced by would-be left-wing critics of President Obama is that they generally have much less credibility with the progressive constituency than the president does himself.

And…so? Does that change the fact that little in the way of progressive legislation and nothing in the way of fundamental change has accompanied Obama’s presidency? Had you polled the GOP base at any point up to 2006, President Bush would have definitely had more credibility with (which is apparently interchangeable with support from) his base than his conservative critics did. But is there any doubt that President Bush not only routinely ignored conservative base values, but also screwed the people who composed that base? Perhaps critics lack credibility with the wider base because they are belittled as unserious by influential people like Yglesias and ignored by most of the rest of the media.

This isn’t even about whether people vote against their self-interest, a gratingly condescending understanding of the public. It is about what exactly support expressed via a public opinion poll has to do with the substance of what the President has done. Criticism of him isn’t that what he’s doing isn’t popular. Relentlessly intimidating whistleblowers, renewing the PATRIOT Act, fanning the flames of school privatization, launching potentially illegal wars, ignoring labor’s dire straits in the private sector, “kicking the can down on the road” on foreclosure fraud, renewing tax cuts, etc., etc., may not be dissuading people from telling a stranger on the phone that they support Obama, but that does not change the reality of his presidency. Obama’s popularity has absolutely nothing to do with the value, morality, and legality of his policies any more than Bush’s did. Criticism of the government isn’t illegitimate or immaterial because it doesn’t resonate with the public at any given point in time; particularly when part of the reason it doesn’t resonate may be that partisans and media elites marginalize that criticism.


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