Brooklyn GOP Win Shows Voters Distrust President Who Cries Wolf

obama signs hand

President Barack Obama signs a hand as he greets people at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Team Obama has had 24 hours to spin the GOP victory in Anthony Weiner’s longtime Democratic Brooklyn seat as having nothing to do with the President. This was also its strategy after Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts in January 2010, an outcome we were told did not foreshadow major Democratic losses the following November.

The problem is quite simple: while pundits touted a new “fighting Obama” after his recent jobs speech, voters no longer believe in the President’s effectiveness. With poverty at record levels, a stagnant economy, and high unemployment, they concluded that Obama still has not gotten the message that fighting for jobs and pushing higher taxes on the wealthy means more than giving a strong speech.

Were many really surprised that a Republican won a special election in a longtime Democratic-controlled Brooklyn congressional district? With the President still ignoring cries from his base for confrontational and dramatic action, did anyone really expect those Brooklyn Democrats to be highly motivated to get to the polls?

Unlike pundits who trumpeted what CNN described as Obama’s ‘Give ’em hell, Barry’? jobs speech last week, Brooklyn voters and those nationally do not believe that “Obama appears to have channeled Harry Truman.”

Obama attacks “partisan bickering” – not Republicans – so it’s easy to understand why voters would not see Republican obstructionism as the chief problem when they go to vote. When Truman was president, he left no doubt that Republicans were on the wrong side. Unlike Obama, he did not sacrifice his agenda for “bipartisanship.”

The President Who Cries Wolf

Obama has a history of giving a strong speech promising to lead the fight for change and then fading when the going gets tough. We saw this on health care, his alleged commitment to allow Bush tax breaks for the wealthy to expire, and his promise to only accept a debt-ceiling deal that combined spending cuts with revenue increases.

Despite Obama’s pattern of promising leadership and then caving to Republican demands, even cynical New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd titled her post jobs speech column “Sleeping Barry Awakes.” Dowd felt that “Obama, heeding plummeting polls and beseeching voices from his despairing base, finally deigned to get tough.”

SEIU, betrayed by Obama on health care, immigration reform and the Employee Free Choice Act, also put history aside and confused an Obama speech with leadership. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry stated, “President Obama displayed the leadership America needs by laying out a strong agenda to get America back to work.”

Unfortunately for Obama and fellow Democrats, the electorate understands that giving a speech is different from displaying leadership. Leadership is what happens after the speech is given. It involves mobilizing power to achieve the goals laid out in the speech, something Obama has rarely done since taking office.

Only presidential actions can convince voters that Obama’s jobs speech was more than the latest example of crying wolf. Voters are tired of spin, which was Obama’s message on the 2008 campaign trail and will be Rick Perry’s theme in 2012.

randy shawThe progressive enablers who think positive reassurance is the best way to move Obama in a more politically and policy savvy direction are wrong. Labor, environmental and progressive on-line activist groups need to take public their private criticisms of Obama’s lack of fighting spirit, or else face a repeat of the New York congressional outcome in districts and states across the nation in 2012.

Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron

Randy Shaw’s most recent book is Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.


  1. says

    The fact that you keep calling this a Brooklyn district, when in fact it is mainly in Queens, is only the first indication that you have no idea what you are talking about. The second indication is that the rest of your post seems to be about yours and others’ view that the president is not fighting hard enough. It is noteworthy that you do not include a single poll, or a single interview, with a single voter in the district that actually held this election. So how can you draw any conclusions whatsoever about what motivated these voters?

    Do you think that the voters in this heavily Orthodox Jewish district might have been motivated, at least a few of them, by the perception (erroneous though you and might agree that it is) that Obama has not been supportive enough of Israel? A lot was also made in this election of the issue of the downtown mosque, which the Republican candidate is strongly against. Where is your analysis of that issue? It’s kind of interesting that this election may have been won in part by race baiting against Muslims, when Weiner won this district in the first place by race-baiting against blacks. You can look it up. And then there were the strengths of the particular candidates. David Weprin was not exactly regarded as the strongest possible candidate.

    By looking at this election solely through the lens of a referendum on the president, you are missing the particular issues at stake in a local contest. And what you are also doing is mirroring exactly the views of the Republicans, who are also crowing about this election as a repudiation of Obama. Of course they are saying that this election shows that voters are repudiating Obama’s big spending and excessive regulation, not that Obama is not fighting hard enough for progressive values. You and the Republicans can’t both be right, and you should consider the possibility that you are both wrong. You should also be ashamed that you are unwittingly playing right into Republican talking points by blaming Obama for an unfortunate result in a local election.

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