Barak Obama faces about the same problem that confronted Bill Clinton in 1994 when he lost control of Congress. In both cases, the Democratic presidents had alienated moderate and conservative voters and found themselves increasingly isolated with a political base of liberals and minorities. In each instance, the president worried that off-year election turnout among their base would be attenuated both because it always is in non-presidential years and because their policy failings had reduced the enthusiasm they found among their base voters. And both men found themselves forced to escalate their rhetoric and move their ideological positions to the left in order to try to drum up the kind of turnout they needed to keep power in Congress.
Clinton failed and Obama will too.
When President Clinton asked me to help him to move to the center to win re-election in 1996, he said “I’ve moved so far to the left that I don’t even recognize myself.” At heart a moderate while Obama is, at core, a leftist, Clinton was alluding to the positions he had to take to keep the support of his liberal House majority. Obama — for whom the further left he drifts the better — has no such qualms but the political impact of his move to the left will be just as fatal for his Congressional majority as it was for Clintons’.
When a president moves leftward, a vicious cycle begins to set in. Driven to raise the intensity of his rhetoric and to take positions further to the extreme, he alienates more and more centrists and moderates, forcing himself to rely more and more on left wing voters. This reliance, in turn, fuels an ever more pronounced leftward drift until he ends up with a vastly diminished political base.
In Obama’s case, his reliance on minority voters adds to the difficulty as he drives racially fair whites to see him as governing primarily in the interests of minority voters.
Obama’s decision to have his Justice Department sue Arizona over its immigration law — despite the fact that American voters back the statute by 2:1 — is the latest illustration of that leftward drift. So is Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision not to prosecute the Black Panthers who posted themselves at a mixed-race polling place in military uniform with clubs to deter white voters.
The further Obama moves to the left, the more he has to move to the left. And the worse it is for his ability to control Congress.