The Big Question: Should Pres. Obama move farther left?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer some insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Some on the left are growing increasingly frustrated with President Barack Obama. How will this affect the 2010 elections and do you think Obama will need to move left next year to help turnout at the polls?

Michelle D. Bernard, president & CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum, said:

For the good of his own political future, President Obama needs to strive to be in the center politically.

Yes, it will be important for Congressional Democrats to excite their base so that they will go to the polls in the mid-term elections. But they cannot--and certainly President Obama cannot--afford to sacrifice independent voters. President Obama presented himself as a centrist in the last election. Millions of Independent, and even Republican voters cast their ballots for him based on that belief. President Obama cannot lose sight of his own re-election and if he moves too far to the left he risks alienating all of those in the political center who will feel misled.

The most important factor that will determine the Democrats' (and President Obama's) political fate next fall will be the state of the economy. Their focus should be on policies that will actually create jobs and encourage growth, not just politically-favored programs and activities that largely benefit special interests that are already on their side. Embracing the economic agenda of the left could be political disaster--raising taxes, more pointless spending, more regulation, and greater trade restrictions would all hinder any economic recovery. That's exactly the wrong direction for the President and Congress.

Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign, said:

Obama’s been at his best when he’s put both his cool, reflective demeanor and his populist side to work under a moral values frame. As ‘change you can believe in’ runs into the business-as-usual Washington, he needs to call out the special interest hold on D.C. That’s not left or right, that’s common sense.

Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, said:

President Obama and the Democrats are falling victim to the consequences of our new 'permanent campaign' and our antiquated electoral statutes that so narrowly restrict voters to two parties. As the governing party, Democrats will be held accountable for what policies they enact, with all usual messiness and compromise that comes with handling unpleasant realities and seeking congressional majorities (and Senate super-majorities) for change. Republicans in the minority can ratchet up opposition rhetoric that fires up their base, knowing they will get little electoral benefit from helping the Democrats win policies. They also know that frustrated voters have no realistic alternative to Democrats, Republicans or staying at home -- credible options outside the two parties would increase their accountability both to their base and to getting the people's business done, but that will take electoral reforms like instant runoff voting.

Obama has generally governed to the right of many of his progressive backers and shows every indication of continuing that positioning on core progressive concerns like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and regulating the financial industry. But to keep a Democratic House majority and at least 60 Senate allies in 2011, he will need to give his supporters something to fight for in the 2010 elections -- an issue that makes it clear that victories in the elections will result in a change his supporters believe in. By risking a loss on a major priority, he could be positioned for a bigger win for that goal in 2011 -- but it's high stakes poker to identify this issue and how to play it.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said:

I think if the president moves further left he does so at the peril of the House. I think it will hurt Speaker Pelosi in keeping control of the House. What it does for 2012, it’s a little premature to talk about that, but in terms of the 2010 election the further left he goes, the more in danger he puts the House Democrats in terms of being in charge.

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said:

I have no idea. I think if he moves back towards the center it will help him.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) said:

I am skeptical of terms; every issue is different. Supposedly conservative Republicans took the largest surplus in American history and turned it into the largest deficit in American history. I think the key thing for the president is to continue to try to address the major problems facing the country. Get the economy back on its feet, pass the healthcare bill that moves our country forward, and if he does that I think Republicans are at risk of being seen as naysayers. They opposed efforts to try to get the economy back on its feet, they failed to propose any major healthcare, any comprehensive healthcare reforms, I think that hopefully the president will be sensitive not only to just the diverse aspects of the Democratic caucus but the diversity of the country.

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said:

No, I think the president is right on course. I can understand that everyone is not getting their way on everything, but one of the responsibilities of the presidency and leading this country is to steer a course that’s correct for both the left and right and north and south and all of the above. When you’re trying to do what’s right you’re not going to please everybody, but I’m fully behind the president and the course that he’s set for the country.

I think that the policies that he has implemented have brought us back from the brink of the worst financial disaster we’ve seen in decades. The stimulus package is beginning to do its job of putting the American people back into good-paying jobs and a lot of the mess he inherited is being corrected at this point. With a healthcare package that I am confident will pass by the end of the year, and with further recovery taking place in all indicators, except unemployment, of course (which is always the last one to improve), I am confident that he is doing is what is necessary for the best interest of this country and setting us on the right course, yes.

Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said:

The president isn't losing his base, in the sense that they are going elsewhere. It would be more precise, however, to say that the base may be losing enthusiasm, feeling a bit drained and let down. During the campaign, the contrasts were so clear, as were the stakes. What is needed is not to "move left," but to stand firm on the issues that defined the election of 2008. Voters chose Barack Obama to lead, not Max Baucus.

John F. McManus, president of the John Birch Society, said:

The mood in the country is one of fright and disgust, and it is growing. It will have a definite impact on the 2010 elections. There will likely be a duplication of the 1994 GOP surge into Congress. One can dearly hope that it will not be taken off track by something like the generally meaningless "Contract with America" concocted by Gingrich. As for Obama moving leftward to appeal to voters, it's hard to imagine he could move any further leftward without falling off the planet.