Have the Dems abandoned Obama or has Obama abandoned the Dems?

Sometimes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Consider this:

"After a bruising midterm election, the president moves to the political center. He distances himself from his Democratic base. He calls for cuts in Social Security and signs legislation ending a major entitlement program. He agrees to balance the budget with major cuts in domestic discretionary spending. He has a showdown with Republicans who threaten to bring government to its knees if their budget demands aren't met. He wins the showdown, successfully painting them as radicals. He goes on to win re-election."

Barack Obama in 2012? Nope. Bill Clinton in the run-up to 1996, described by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Clinton disappointed liberals as he moved to the center, balanced the budget and abandoned hopes of ever putting his name on any sweeping initiative. But he got re-elected.

Now it's Barack Obama who has moved right, appointing Wall Street insiders to key jobs, escalating the war in Afghanistan and generally signaling a willingness to compromise with energized Republicans, who are notably disinclined to compromise. Which is why many liberal Democrats feel their hopes slipping away.

"Certainly, most of the people I talk to are disappointed," said Allen Hallmark, a former chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee.

"We thought he'd be a real liberal, the second coming of FDR."

Longtime Democrat Frank Hiber agrees.

"He hasn't been aggressive enough against Republicans," Hiber said. "Every serious person knows if you don't do something about revenue you can't balance the budget."

Increasingly, Obama voters fault the president for failing to deliver on health care, wind down two unpopular wars, end the Bush tax cuts for the rich and do more to help working people when the economy was imploding.

Others defend the president.

"There were things promised that he's had a hard time getting through," said Jan Waitt, the Democrats' current chairwoman. "He's fighting as hard as he can. You have to realize he was determined to be a consensus president. It took him a while to realize it wasn't going to happen."

Taking office in an economic near meltdown, Obama seemed ready to hit the ground running in the mold of Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR gave ordinary Americans a feeling that he cared about their problems in a way that was unprecedented. Even if he didn't always do the right thing, which he didn't, he at least seemed to be always trying hard to do something.

Obama has projected a curiously detached persona. He's like a guy who schemed like crazy to get invited to the big dance and once there realized that maybe he doesn't really like dancing all that much.

His opponents' scorched-Earth style often made him look naive and ineffectual.

The game changed a bit Monday when the president proposed that nobody making more than $1 million a year should pay a smaller share of his income in taxes than average Americans.

Many wealthy Americans pay less than working people because corporate dividends are taxed at a lower rate — 15 percent — than ordinary wages.

"That's fine," Hiber said of Obama's proposal. "He's saying the right thing now. I wish he'd done it before. He's not going to get it."

The Republican wailing and gnashing of teeth at this common-sense proposal was instantaneous, as were the hackneyed cries of "class warfare." Here's a question: If it's class warfare of the D's to ask the rich to pay as much as working people, wasn't it class warfare of the R's to give the ultra-rich a special deal in the first place?

While Bill Clinton may have disappointed liberals, he left office with the federal budget balanced, the nation at peace, and the federal debt on schedule to be paid off in our lifetimes. George W. Bush squandered all that for two unfunded wars, tax cuts for rich Americans and big corporations, a drug plan to benefit Big Pharma, and more of the ongoing deregulation that's swept everything before it since the 1980s. It was the lack of regulation that permitted the abuses that left the economy a smoking crater in 2008.

Four in 10 people now approve of Obama's performance. This is a man who 34 months ago won more votes than any American ever, trouncing John McCain by some 10 million votes.

"People who had never been involved before came out to work for Obama," Hallmark said. "I don't think that kind of energy will be there this time."

"Now is not the time to abandon your president," the Rev. Al Sharpton said the other day on MSNBC.

The problem isn't that D's are suddenly abandoning Obama. It's the feeling that he's abandoned them.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.

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