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Why aren't Democrats 'fired up and ready to go'?


Over the past few days, prominent liberal and Obama-supporting commentators have asked this question or something similar: Why aren't more Democrats fired up about Obama's presidency or the coming midterms? Indeed, the enthusiasm advantage is perhaps the Republicans' most significant advantage heading into November.

As E.J. Dionne wrote yesterday: "Democrats should feel a lot better than they do. They enacted a health-care bill that had been their dream for more than 60 years. They pulled the country out of a terrifying economic spiral. They are on the verge of passing the biggest reform of Wall Street since the New Deal. The public has identified enemies that are typically seen as Republican allies: oil companies and big bankers. And given the Republicans' past policies, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is at least as much their problem as Obama's."

He added, "Yet it is Democrats who are petrified, uncertain and hesitant -- and this was true before the oil spill made matters worse... Why does it so often seem that Republicans are full of passionate intensity while Democrats lack all conviction?"

And here's the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan on Obama getting BP to set up a $20 billion fund for Gulf Coast relief: "If leftwing populism in America were anything like as potent as right-wing populism ... there would be cheering in the streets. But there's nada, but more leftist utopianism and outrage on MSNBC."

There are a few theories as to why Democrats aren't energized. The first is the liberal disappointment with Obama and his policies (examples: no public option in the health care law, the likelihood that cap-and-trade won't be enacted, the fact that Gitmo has yet to close).

But Michael Tomasky has a response to those criticisms. "Too often, when progressives think of American history, we think only of the snapshots: those glorious moments when a historic bill is signed into law, or when the great progressive leader thunderingly confronts the forces of reaction. It’s good to remember those; they are our lodestars. But they are moments. Actual history is slower, more tedious, and certainly less uplifting... The changes we want to see won’t happen in 18 months, or in two years, or four, or probably even eight. Indeed, the entire Obama era, if it lasts eight years, is best thought of not as a culmination, or a self-contained time frame that should be judged a failure if X, Y, and Z don’t happen."

On the comparisons between Obama and FDR, Tomasky adds: "The New Deal was not a seamless narrative of aggressively liberal steps in which conservatives were sent scampering. It was full of starts and stops, and it took a long time. There were many reasons for this, but a chief one had to do with Roosevelt himself–seen by the more impatient reformers of his day as equivocal and adhering to too few core beliefs, exactly the way some see Obama today. Alan Brinkley, in Liberalism and Its Discontents, reminds us that the general historians’ view of Roosevelt, quite far removed from that presented in the sound bites and summaries employed today, was that of 'a man without an ideological core and thus unable to exercise genuine leadership.'"

A second theory -- related to what Tomasky says above -- is the nature of the 24-7 news environment and the impatience of the American public.

A third theory is that Democrats, especially in the blogosphere and on cable TV, have yet to really adjust to a political world without George W. Bush. Indeed, human nature suggests that it's easier to oppose something more vigorously than support it. That could be playing a role here.

What do First Readers think?