WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's liberal backers have a long list of grievances. The Guantanamo Bay prison is still open. Health care hasn't been transformed. And Wall Street banks are still paying huge bonuses.
But they are directing their anger less at Obama than at the man who works down the hall from him. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, they say, is the prime obstacle to the changes they thought Obama's election would bring.
The friction was laid bare in August when Emanuel showed up at a weekly strategy session featuring liberal groups and White House aides. Some attendees said they were planning to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were balking at Obama's health-care overhaul.
"F---ing retarded," Emanuel scolded the group, according to several participants. He warned them not to alienate lawmakers whose votes would be needed on health care and other top legislative items.
The antipathy reflects deep dissatisfaction on the Democratic left with Obama's first year in office, and represents a fracturing of the relationship between the president and the political base that mobilized to elect him. A little more than one year ago, Obama's victory led some to predict an era of Democratic dominance.
The anger on the left shows that Obama is caught in an internal battle over both the course of his administration and the Democratic Party.
Many in the party, particularly in the wake of the loss last week of a Massachusetts Senate seat, contend that the White House should chart a centrist approach focusing on the economy. They point to polls showing Obama's approval rating among independent voters has dropped by nearly 20 percentage points since early last year.