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Memo to liberals: You're outnumbered


As the liberal blogosphere confab, Netroots Nation, kicks off today in Las Vegas, it will inevitably further the "Why are progressives disappointed in Obama?" storyline.

In the past few months, liberal commentators have bemoaned that the public option wasn’t included in the health care law, that the financial reform legislation -- which President Obama signed into law yesterday -- isn’t strong enough, and that Gitmo still isn't closed. The Nation's Eric Alterman even penned a widely discussed essay explaining these disappointments on a system that's stacked against progressives.

But here is something to consider: It's the country -- not the system -- that's stacked against liberals and progressives.

From 1989 (after Reagan's presidency) to now, the most stable data in the NBC/WSJ poll has been that roughly one-fifth of the country identifies as being liberal, while one-third identifies being conservative. Even in 2008, when Obama decisively won the presidency, the average in the poll was 25% liberal, 36% conservative. And in 1996, when Bill Clinton easily won re-election, it was 22% liberal, 34% conservative.

For Democrats, this means that if they want to win national elections, they need to win about 60% of the self-described moderate vote -- which Obama did in '08 and congressional Dems did in '06, per the exit polls. By comparison, however, John Kerry got 54% of the moderate vote in 2004.

So the bigger question for Democrats and liberals shouldn't be: "Why isn't Obama's presidency more progressive?" Instead, it should be: "Why isn't the country more progressive?"

During the '08 presidential campaign, Obama declared (controversially at the time): "Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not."

He was correct.

Indeed, progressives -- as well as historians -- might better judge Obama 10 to 15 years from now on whether his administration was able to bend the trajectory of American politics like Reagan did after '88.