Thursday, February 19, 2015

Obama Changed His Party, Not the Country

Well, good thing, about not changing the country that is.

From Josh Kraushaar, at National Journal:
As a presidential candidate, President Obama expressed his desire to "change the trajectory of America" along the lines of Ronald Reagan, rebuking the legacy of Bill Clinton's pragmatic presidency in the process. Now that his own presidency is winding down, Obama is finding that his main legacy is only half-achieved. He has indeed transformed the Democratic party to his liking, but failed to get anyone else to follow suit.

At the same time, there's no doubt he's successfully pushed Democrats to adopt his favored policies with minimal dissent—and that will have lasting consequences for many elections to come. Despite uneven personal relations with his own party in Congress, there have been very few instances when his party's members have split from his governing course, even on issues where the politics would dictate they should.

That's the consequence of being the most polarizing president in history, according to Gallup's latest polling analysis. Obama maintains strong support from his core supporters, even as Republicans have entirely abandoned him and independents have followed suit. Gallup found 79 percent of Democrats still backing him, even with a 42.6 percent average approval rating in his sixth year in office. That unusually large disconnect has emboldened the president to push forward on controversial issues that few other Democrats would touch, thanks to unyielding support from his base.

The recent debate over the Iranian nuclear threat and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's scheduled speech to Congress on this issue is a perfect example of this new Democratic dynamic. The Democratic party has long been strongly supportive of Israel, but thanks to Obama's pursuit of a deal with Iran, relations between this White House and Israel have hit historic lows. Democrats are now presented with an uncomfortable choice: Back Obama and his aggressive diplomatic push with Iran, or support the Israeli prime minister's speech to Congress raising questions about Iran's intentions.

In the past, the invitation of the Israeli prime minister to speak wouldn't have been nearly as controversial—even so close to an election. Obama knows that. And he's using this episode and his leverage as president to get his rank-and-file members to be less instinctively supportive of the Jewish state. It's having some effect: Most African-American Democrats and many progressive members of the party—Obama's base—have said they're not attending. Even several Jewish Democratic members haven't committed to doing so.

This is what Obama's former chief strategist David Axelrod meant when he wrote about the president's desire to have so-called "Bulworth moments" after being reelected in his new book. Translated into political terms, it means pushing his party to be more outspoken on sensitive issues, even when they may not be comfortable doing so. Challenging Israel was one of the president's top second term priorities, according to Axelrod. The worsening relationship between this administration and Israel was as much the president's preconceived plan as the result of a protocol breach...