This week, a fascinating phenomenon has been bubbling up on the left. Unabashedly liberal media outlets are expressing quite a bit of frustration with Democratic candidates in red and purple states who are doing their best to create some distance between them and the unpopular head of their party.
Oh, they’re not taking it personally, of course. These liberal outlets who are irked with their allies in public office frame their frustrations as strategic advice. Sure, Democrats running in states without a majority Democratic electorate cannot rely entirely on Democratic votes in November, they’ll say, but they cannot afford to alienate them either.
“A party running away from a president never works.” NBC News’ First Read team wrote in a blanket admonishment of 2014’s Democratic slate. “In other words, if the Democratic Party wants to energize its voters, is treating the head of the party like a pariah the best way to do that?”
“The challenge for Democrats is to signal independence from Obama, who is unquestionably weighing them down among these voters, without alienating what one strategist calls the “2012 surge voters” that Democrats need to do a better job of bringing in during this midterm election,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent observed.
The president is not making that task any easier for 2014’s embattled Democratic incumbents. After assuring the public last week that his policies were on the ballot in November to the chagrin of his allies in Congress, Obama comforted Al Sharpton’s radio audience this week by insisting that every Democrat attempting to disassociate themselves from the leader of their party is merely advancing an expedient lie. In fact, the president said, their voting record suggests that they are all reliable allies and they will be again once this messy election business was over.
“The ineptitude of the White House political operation has sunk from annoying to embarrassing,” a senior Democratic aide told National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar in reaction to Obama’s efforts to undercut red state Democrats. He noted that another Senate Democratic aide told The Washington Post that Obama’s comments were “not devised with any input from Senate leadership.”
“Back off Obama, if you know what’s good for you,” these liberal outlets appear to be saying. For liberal journalists and political commentators, however, it’s just business. That might not be so for The New York Times editorial board, which seems to be taking Obama’s rebuke at the hands of erstwhile allies rather personally.
“The panicky Democratic flight away from President Obama – and from some of the party’s most important positions – is not a surprise,” read The Times editorial. “Mr. Obama remains highly unpopular among white voters, particularly in Southern States where candidates like Ms. [Michelle] Nunn and Ms. [Allison Lundergan] Grimes and several others are struggling to establish leads.”
“But one of the reasons for his unpopularity is that nervous members of his own party have done a poor job of defending his policies over the nearly six years of his presidency,” The Times continued, “allowing a Republican narrative to take hold.”
Right. A media landscape which is quantifiably left-of-center is just jumping at the opportunity to advance Republican narratives. The New York Times is but a liberal island in an ocean of journalistic conservatism. If only elected Democrats had been more supportive of Obama, perhaps he would not be as unpopular as virtually all his predecessors were at this stage of their presidency.
“Many of these candidates are running in difficult political environments and are being careful about what they say or don’t say in hopes of preserving Democratic control of the Senate,” The Times editorial continued after venting a litany of gripes about how red state Democrats are insufficiently liberal for The Times’ liking.
“They run the risk, though, of alienating important constituencies who prefer a party with a spine, especially black voters who remain very supportive of Mr. Obama,” the editorial closed. “By not standing firmly for their own policies, Democrats send a message to voters that the unending Republican criticism of the president is legitimate.”
Of course, no criticism of Obama is legitimate – all of it, the far-left echo chamber is assured, is rooted in unthinking and brutish animus. That position is growing increasingly untenable, and The Times editorial board is not taking it well.
This attempt to impose a purity test on the Democratic coalition is reminiscent of a strain of conservatism which grew increasingly intolerant of dissent in past election cycles. Fanaticism and impatience with heterodoxy among the ever-shrinking pool of true believers is the mark of an ideology in the early stages of crisis, but it is a stage that must pass before acceptance, reform, and rebuilding can occur. Unfortunately for The New York Times, the stage of denial will extend well into the 2016 presidential race and beyond.