The answer to that question probably is complex. But our guess is that Obama's failure to address the concerns of his progressive base is hurting him in opinion polls.
On the surface, it seems Obama should be earning high marks. But it hasn't worked out that way. Reports John McCormick of Bloomberg News:
Obama scored his latest victory last week as congressional negotiators approved the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. financial regulations since the Great Depression, just three months after passage of landmark health care legislation. He signed into law one of the biggest economic-rescue efforts in U.S. history less than a month after entering the White House.
Still, with unemployment at 9.7 percent, the president has been unable to convert the accomplishments during his first 17 months into political popularity.
The latest Gallup Poll shows both Obama's approval and disapproval ratings at 45 percent. Some of the negativity almost certainly is unfounded. We suspect quite a few Americans are grouchy over a recession that Obama inherited from George W. Bush. Others are unhappy with two poorly managed wars that Obama inherited. And some probably give him low marks because of the BP oil spill, which almost certainly was the result of lax government regulation during the Bush era.
But Obama does deserve blame for turning a deaf ear on his strongest supporters. Even with Obama's perceived legislative successes, many progressives have legitimate gripes. The economic stimulus package should have been more substantial. Health-care reform should have included a public option. Financial regulation is likely to remain too lax.
And the White House still doesn't seem to understand that many Americans actually care about this concept called "the rule of law." Those concerns were well articulated recently by Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. Reports Josh Gerstein at Politico:
Asked why he's so animated now, Romero said: "It’s 18 months and, if not now, when? . . . Guantanamo is still not closed. Military commissions are still a mess. The administration still uses state secrets to shield themselves from litigation. There's no prosecution for criminal acts of the Bush administration. Surveillance powers put in place under the Patriot Act have been renewed. If there has been change in the civil liberties context, I frankly don't see it."
Neither do I. And if Obama doesn't begin to act on matters of fundamental law, his poll numbers are likely to continue heading in the wrong direction.