Obama and the Democratic Base

obama and jfkIn a recent Gallup poll Americans chose President Kennedy as the most popular president of the last five decades. The Kennedy legacy lives. Those who deny this do not understand the soul of the Democratic Party or the state of public opinion in America today.

President Obama was elected in 2008 with the dramatic and high-profile support of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). One of the most widely quoted statements in 2008 was by Caroline Kennedy, who said Obama would be “a president like my father.”

What does it tell us that even after the 2010 election in what was called the year of the Tea Party, Americans chose a populist progressive Democratic president, not a Republican or conservative president, as their favorite over the last 50 years?

History suggests that America is a centrist nation, with shifts to the left or right that move with national circumstances. The elections of 2006, 2008, and 2010 reveal a nation in revolt against whichever party carries the torch of the status quo. In 2006 and 2008 this favored Democrats and liberals. In 2010 this favored Republicans and conservatives. This is not a nation moving to the right. It is a nation demanding change.

One hallmark of 2009 and 2010 was the demobilization of the Democratic base of grassroots workers, small donors and large liberal donors. They had brought a wave of activism through the Obama and Clinton campaigns of 2008. They were never mobilized by President Obama to support a governing program of transforming change, as President Reagan mobilized his conservative base.

This demobilization inevitably led to the demoralization and depression of Democratic voters, workers and liberal donors. Those who were powerfully mobilized in 2008 were largely ignored in 2009 and 2010, and often addressed with condescension and contempt by those who resented their passion for powerful change and dramatic reform.

Democrats ran almost even in 2010 polling among all voters, but lost a landslide in the House of Representatives among actual voters when many voters who favored Democrats stayed home. Any party that demobilizes, demoralizes, depresses and demeans its base is destined for defeat.

There are common threads that run through the Kennedy legacy and the Reagan legacy. The Kennedys and Reagan passionately advocated positions of high principle to support real change, aggressively mobilized their supporters to fight for dramatic changes they advocated as president, and wisely knew how to negotiate with political adversaries and when to cut the final deals.

On healthcare the major initiatives advocated by progressive populist Democrats were also supported by a majority of independent voters who favored the public option, a “Medicare buy-in,” stronger actions against alleged price-fixing by insurers, and lower drug prices through safe Canadian imports.

On the economy a majority of independents joined progressive populist Democrats supporting more action to create jobs and help the jobless, more enforcement against insider trading and other market abuses, fewer bonuses for those bailed-out bankers who helped cause the crash, ending tax cuts for millionaires, acting to prevent foreclosure abuses, and campaign reform to end the dominance of special-interest money.

The Democratic base was never roused to fight for this long list of “changes we can believe in.” Independent voters were never asked for their support for these actions that a majority of them believed in.

President Obama should be informed by the example of the Kennedys and Reagan. While Republicans are attacking the president, Democrats should be mobilizing their base in response, not further depressing the base with “balanced” condemnations of “the left and the right.”

The Democrats’ mantra should be to stand tall, fight hard, organize first, mobilize for battle and negotiate later, from strength.

Brent BudowskyThis is how Reagan and the Kennedys so often prevailed. They never unilaterally disarmed their base. They never surrendered positions of principle before a negotiation began. They knew the difference between smart compromise and perpetual retreat. They knew that elections are lost when a great party’s most faithful voters are moved to stay home, and won when the faithful are moved to fight on matters where they agree with a majority of independents.

President Obama and Democrats can succeed if they learn the lessons of Reagan and the Kennedys. They should hear message of voters who choose John Kennedy as their most popular president in 50 years. Fight hard, then negotiate from strength.

Brent Budowsky

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics.

Republished with the author’s permission.


  1. Donna says

    “President Obama should be informed by the example of the Kennedys and Reagan. While Republicans are attacking the president, Democrats should be mobilizing their base in response, not further depressing the base with “balanced” condemnations of “the left and the right.”

    The Democrats’ mantra should be to stand tall, fight hard, organize first, mobilize for battle and negotiate later, from strength.”

    Really??? I see nothing wrong with BALANCED condemnations or praise. As far as mobilizing, Battle is not necessary. What you suggest will simply maintain the inevitable back and forth of the pendulum of Dems vs Reps. I’m betting the “CHANGE” most of us want is in the mindset of BALANCED independents…way above your head.

  2. says

    Candidate Obama said, “I’m in this race to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over.” President Obama just appointed William Daley as chief of staff (JP Morgan’s executive for 7 years). Who needs a lobbyist when the corporations move into the White House?
    Candidate Obama is far removed from President Obama and that is why he has lost support. The Dem base is split into two groups, those that see the truth and those that don’t. His actions are widening the gap between wealthy and poor but it goes much deeper than that.
    John F Kennedy was the last great President and it is an insult to compare him to Obama. JFK was against secret societies and Obama is a Bilderberger. Obama received more BP-related dollars than any other candidate during the 2008 elections, collecting more than $70,000. Obama allowed BP to spray the toxic Corexit when ther are safe and highly effective alternatives; Obama encourages people to eat the toxic seafood. Now the claimants may pay 35% income tax on their BP money because it wasn’t declared a disaster! And BP plans to write off $10 billion. Obviously the oil lobby still holds weight in Washington. Government has not told us the truth about our environment- the proof is finally coming to light.
    The “base” has questioned this type of governance… lack of concern. I have and I got the message- they honestly do not care about us so it’s time to move on with a new face. GOV Inc. is alive and well in the Obama Administration and we can’t afford the next two much less another four years.
    It is not about left vs right wing, it is about a government The People can’t keep hanging on to Obama’s kind of ‘hope and change’ because We the People deserve much better. Government must be unincorporated! /saynotocorporateamerica.blogspot.com/

  3. Joe Weinstein says

    Commenter George A. C. offers the typical so-sorry-but-I-told-you-so Gop narrative on Obama: as secret marxist. Never mind the actual facts as versus fictions about the past two years.

    In truth, Obama may theoretically love marxism and statism but – as we have learned – in practice (as versus nice analytical rhetoric) he stands tall for nothing notable at all: whether it be on the economy, on the environment, on human rights and democratic regimes abroad, or …

    Author Budowsky likewise, in a very different way, equally (if more touchingly) ignores what we have learned about Obama during the past two years. We have learned that Obama does not care to implement even the most obvious lessons from past Dem successes or to heed even the best-meant best-evidenced advice. If he’s like any past Dem president at all, it may be Carter, who admitted to having ‘lusted deep in my heart’. In Obama’s case the apparent lust is to be accepted by Republicans (at home; and by Moslems abroad) and maybe even AS a Republican.

  4. George A. Crackuh says

    There’s only one senator whose voting record was to the left of Bernie Sanders’ – Barack Obama’s. That record is not populist, and it is not “progressive” – it is the record of a hard-left statist. Which, by the way, is regressive, toward tyranny, and is the antithesis of the historically long and painful progress we have made toward increasing our individual freedom, our liberty.

    Obama has continued his hard-left statist direction as President. He and his leftist Democrat Congress have floored the debt pedal, creating more public debt than all other Congresses combined. His ObamaCare health bill alone has created almost 200 new government agencies. Meanwhile, he’s doing everything he can to choke small businesses to death and kill off jobs. This is why his popularity has dropped like a rock, and why the last Congress’s approval rating is the lowest ever recorded.

    This is not anything like John Kennedy; it is not populist, and it is not “progressive”. To actually believe it is delusional; to say so otherwise is deceitful.

    Barack Obama, who is a complete disaster for this country, deceptively campaigned as a moderate while hiding his extensive Marxist upbringing and associations.

    You should ask yourself this question: If Obama’s goal was to bankrupt this country, and create widespread poverty, and force the people into government dependency, what would he be doing differently than he is right now?

    For a party that preaches concern for the all the little guys, they sure are creating a lot of joblessness and misery. Hey, it’s just like Carter! Only better.

    It seems from the credits that Mr. Budowsky attended a school of economics – did he perhaps not study any of that subject while he was there? Or perhaps he didn’t experience the twenty-year economic boom created by Reagan’s tax-cutting and people-liberating policies? And his efforts at fiscally restraining his own out-of-control Congress, perhaps that made a difference, too?

    Our crushingly massive government, this terrifyingly profligate government, cannot be sustained, and we are teetering on the brink of a global meltdown.

    We only have two choices now: we can scale it back, take it down, disassemble it, and do it gradually but consistently so that people don’t get hurt, or we can watch the most horrific global economic crash in history.

    Getting the government’s gigantic boot off the necks of the people – now THAT would be truly progressive!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *