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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Some on left souring on Obama

When President Barack Obama speaks to the Notre Dame commencement Sunday afternoon, television cameras will search the sea of graduates, looking for turned backs and defaced mortar boards that abortion opponents will likely use to register their disagreement with the president.

But the attention to protests from conservatives who don’t support Obama – and almost certainly never would – could obscure the far more significant political threat he now faces.

Barely four months into his presidency, Obama is confronting growing dissatisfaction among members of his liberal base, who feel spurned by a series of his early decisions on issues ranging from guns to torture to immigration to gay rights.

The list got longer last week as Obama reversed his earlier decision to release photos of detainees abused in U.S. military custody and announced plans to try some terror suspects before military commissions – though on the campaign trail he railed against earlier versions of the tribunals.

A few, like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, have even hurled the left’s ultimate epithet – suggesting that Obama’s turning into George W. Bush.

The building anger comes at a critical moment – just as Obama’s about to announce his choice for the Supreme Court. Fulfill their dreams of a “liberal Scalia,” a firebrand from the left, and much would be forgiven.

But if Obama opts instead for a decidedly centrist nominee aimed at winning a large number of Republican votes in the Senate, the growing concern could develop into something more politically dangerous.

“Even though I think he can get away with a more centrist candidate, he has to be careful not to be spitting in the eyes of his base,” said Laura Murphy, a lobbyist and former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office.

“He’s got to be concerned about the cumulative impact dampening the energy and enthusiasm he needs for the midterm elections,” Murphy said. “If he doesn’t sustain a sizeable Democratic majority, he’s going to have a hard time finishing his very big agenda.”

“I could see the shrewdness of it,” John Brittain of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, referring to the possibility Obama would turn to a middle-of-the-road candidate. “They would be kind of punting on the Supreme Court issue to focus on other issues. I think it would take a lot of the wind out of Obama’s sails—his popularity, not necessarily in polling numbers, but in spirit.”

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