Debt Decisions & the Demobilization of the Left

After looking for quite awhile that President Obama had managed to hold onto to decent approval ratings in bad economic times, today Gallup reports that his job approval has fallen to 40%. Looking at party breakdown, one can see that Obama’s approval has gone from 79% among Democrats down to 72%. (It has also fallen among Independents while remaining stable among Republicans).

It also appears that he is on the verge of becoming an underdog. His electoral position will be weakened if the debt limit is raised along with severe cuts in the budget, as these will slow down the economy.

But there are other potentially severe political repercussions that may follow from the debt limit crisis which don’t relate to macroeconomic conditions.

Obama’s approach may be about to demobilize the left. He won in 2008 with activists and strong supporters putting in many volunteer hours registering voters, talking to people to persuade them to support and vote for Obama, and doing critical get-out-the-vote activities.

These activists did not expect him to support policies with major cuts to core social programs. They did not expect him to sign a bill with major cuts while keeping the Bush tax regime intact. They did not expect this very strong communicator to adopt much of the Republican rhetorical field about deficits, albeit with a call-out for “balance.”

Many activists were disappointed with Obama before, particularly with the health care bill. But it’s one thing to not go far enough or fast enough, whether on health care, rights for gay and lesbian people, or withdrawal from Iraq.

This would be a far greater blow, for this involves retrenchment — going backwards — and on key programs that are among the Democratic party’s proudest accomplishments.  And they would be weakened without any real policy analysis, but as a side-effect of an unrelated dispute which has never been handled this way before.

One of best political outcomes for Obama would be for there to be no big deal and for a clean debt ceiling bill to pass. If this doesn’t happen, he should invoke the 14th amendment and raise the debt ceiling on his own.

Signing anything like the Reid proposal would be a political disaster of the highest order and a self-inflicted one at that.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.