The President and Vice-President are furious at what sympathizers perceive as an "enthusiasm gap" favoring Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections. Tea-fueled Republicans are aroused, energized and optimistic, while Democrats are reportedly demoralized, apathetic and pessimistic. The Obama administration blames the enthusiasm gap on what the Vice-President calls liberal "whining" and on a perception that the Democrats have accomplished less than they actually have since the President took office. I think they miss the point. Obama and Biden want people to focus on legislative accomplishments, but instead we perceive a jobless recovery and feel a new sensitivity to national debt. Trumpeting health-care-reform legislation does nothing to calm these anxieties. Arguing that the economy would have been worse now had McCain been President is plausible but clearly not compelling. The only thing likely to motivate people to vote Democratic this fall is fear of the "wild Indians" of the Tea Party movement, but I suspect that Democrats have restrained themselves from really smearing the TPs because they remain uncertain about the breadth and depth of grassroots support for the movement. In any event, fear of the TPs does not yet appear to be driving Democratic base constituents to more energetic or enthusiastic activity on their party's behalf.
I feel like I should here insert my usual comment about liberals and progressives not having to settle for what Democrats insist is the best deal they can get. While Obama and Biden make a plausible argument that liberals shouldn't trade "not good enough" for "nothing" this November, liberals, progressives, leftists etc. have every right to deny their endorsement to would-be representatives whom they deem not good enough, regardless of the post-electoral consequences. But my affirmation of a right not to have to settle for the Democratic minimum comes with a corollary: the right to refuse to settle is not a right to apathy. If liberals and progressives are dissatisfied with the achievements of the Obama administration and the Pelosi-Reid Congress, then why aren't they swelling the ranks of Green parties across the country? Why aren't they rallying behind independent challengers to Obama's left, or even forming anti-tea movements ("hard cider," maybe?) to transplant spinal material into Democratic ranks? Why, if they believe that Democratic failures prove that "the system" never works for them, do they let that system stand? A big part of the answer, I suspect, is that we're dealing with liberals: people who can't help worrying that if they've made so many people angry there really must be something wrong with their views, people appalled at the thought of imposing their will on the unwilling (despite what Republicans say about them) and people incapable of the "or else" mentality that energizes their antagonists. Many liberal Democrats really do seem to be the sort of people who curl up into a ball as soon as someone disagrees sharply with them. If so, should it surprise anyone if they adopt a capitulationist attitude at the first opportunity?
Fortunately for the President, by 2012 there'll probably be enough of a backlash against Republican policies among fickle independents -- pardon the redundancy if you perceive it -- to get Obama re-elected the way the Contract With America assured Bill Clinton's second term. Whether the next two years will be fortunate for the rest of us will be another story, but until liberals take a stand and accept no alternative to their full agenda we'll do this dance again as we've done it before. I suppose if liberals did that they wouldn't be liberals, but while they remain liberals I expect they'll tolerate us asking whether their mentality is really adequate for our time.