When the zealots are no longer zealous

The effect of all this is that fierce critics of the Bush-Cheney War on Terror, or the 2008 excesses on Wall Street, have had to grow quiet, inasmuch as any continued criticism would hurt Barack Obama. But silence does not mean that his supporters appreciate the embarrassment, and that is precisely why there is unease among his base — and why in the last four weeks the president has once more tried to rev up the class-warfare rhetoric, albeit in a day-late, dollar-short fashion.

Something analogous happened to Bush when he desperately needed base support during the dark days of the Iraq insurgency, even as many hard-core conservatives felt the serial deficits, unfunded entitlements like the prescription-drug benefit or No Child Left Behind, the Harriet Miers nomination, and advocacy for “comprehensive” immigration reform had made them uneasy and embarrassed as fiscal and social conservatives. Their abandonment sent the president’s polls from the mid to low 40s to, at the end, the mid to low 30s.

Embarrassment is not so easily forgotten or forgiven, as Obama is now finding out.