08/04/2010 02:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Obsession With Confrontation Against the Left

Yesterday at OpenLeft, I wrote a post about how the Obama administration unduly shies away from confrontation with Republicans and conservatives. Whether this is a product of the president's personal fetishization of conciliation or a product of a right-of-center political ideology none of us can know because none of us are in his head. But it's a pretty obvious statement of fact that the president has reflexively tried to avoid confrontation with the GOP, even when confrontation is necessary.

That said, one thing I failed to mention in my post yesterday should also be equally obvious: This president goes out of his way to be very confrontational towards progressives.

PPeriodically, we get clear examples of this. To name a few: There was the time that the Obama administration openly threatened progressive Democrats if they didn't agree to vote for more Afghanistan War funding; There was the time that President Obama publicly insulted progressives by claiming the public option wasn't important; There was the time the administration worked to kill Democratic legislation to allow the import of cheaper FDA-approved medicines from abroad; There was the time that the Obama administration aggressively fought to defang progressive legislation to audit the Federal Reserve; And, of course, there is the White House's over-the-top interventions in local Democratic primaries on behalf of corporate conservative candidates in their campaigns against progressive standard-bearers (oh, and this says nothing about the administration's refusal to use its political capital to push climate change legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, immigration reform, etc.)

These last examples - in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and now Colorado - are arguably the most offensive of all for a few reasons. First, Obama himself berated such top-down Establishment intervention against progressive candidates in his own primary run for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency. Second, and even more important, the heavy-handed interventions extend a huge middle-finger to the concept of basic democracy within the Democratic Party - not exactly the "new politics" that Obama claims to represent, and certainly not progressive (that is, if you consider being pro-democracy being progressive). And third, Obama's intervention against specifically the progressive candidates in each of these races shows an administration that believes it's biggest enemy inside the Democratic Party are not the conservative Democrats who have joined with Republicans to vote down progressive legislation - but the progressive candidates who would vote with most other Democrats to pass that progressive legislation.

The Colorado example is really the most grotesque of all. The White House has thrown everything into propping up the candidacy of Sen. Michael Bennet (D) - an appointed senator who has never run for office in his life; who has barely lived in the state of Colorado; who has cast repeated votes against progressive legislation (cramdown, credit card interest rate crackdowns, ending Big Oil tax breaks, etc.); who has raised among the largest truckload of corporate cash in the Senate; and whose major claim-to-fame is making millions of dollars for himself as a corporate raider working for right-wing billionaire Phil Anschutz. And the White House is not backing Bennet in a vacuum - it is backing him against Andrew Romanoff, who has helped build grassroots infrastructure in taking back Colorado from Republicans, who has served as Colorado House Speaker, who has sworn off PAC money, who has run a genuinely grassroots campaign, and who polls have shown would likely be a stronger general election nominee against Republicans.

Romanoff is no Bernie Sanders, of course. But there's a clear progressive-versus-corporate-conservative choice in this race. And rather than sitting out and letting Colorado Democratic voters make their decision without the White House thumb on the scales, Obama has, once again, made clear it is prepared to try to destroy whatever progressive forces may exist inside the Democratic Party.

New Polls show that, at least in Colorado, it may not work, as Romanoff's campaign is surging. But I do stand corrected from yesterday's post - President Obama may not be confrontational against the Right, but he is one of America's most aggressively confrontational politicians against the progressive grassroots Left. The record on this is pretty clear - and if the Left isn't willing to become more confrontational in response, then the Left will likely continue to be trampled in policy and legislative fights in the months and years to come.

UPDATE: Some have argued that the Obama administration's lockstep endorsement of all Democratic incumbents in primary contests cannot be measured on a progressive/conservative continuum - if only because (allegedly) all sitting presidents always endorse sitting incumbents. The latter point may be true - this may be Standard Operating Procedure. But, then, that doesn't mean you can't judge that Standard Operating Procedure on a progressive/conservative scale. Indeed, I would argue that there's something inherently conservative, pro-status quo and anti-change in automatically endorsing an incumbent irrespective of what that incumbent's political ideology is. And I would further argue that there's something extra conservative about automatically endorsing incumbents who are more conservative than their progressive primary opponents. Just because other presidents have done that doesn't mean its progressive, or unimportant.