Obama's Worst Nightmare: Congressional Democrats

By Liz PeekFinancial Columnist

Why are Democrats undermining President Obama? It's easy to understand why Rush Limbaugh is hoping Obama will fail. From his perspective, Obama's energy, labor and health care policies (among others) will yank the country hard to the left, weakening our capitalist economy and ushering in failed socialist policies. But why is his own party running so scared?

From the moment Nancy Pelosi instituted crassly partisan procedural rules on the opening day of the 111thCongress, mocking Obama's promised new bipartisan era, Democrats in the House and Senate have done their utmost to discredit the president.

It is possible that my brain does not contain enough dark eddies to comprehend the devious calculations that have led to these maneuvers.

From my perspective, Obama is the best thing to have happened to the Democrats in decades. He has rallied an entire generation and numerous ethnic groups to a party formerly led by a windsurfing flip-flopper -- who couldn't unseat one of the least popular presidents ever -- an "environmentalist" who lives in a 20-room house that consumes twenty times the energy soaked up by a normal person and a philanderer whose best qualification for becoming president (according to a lengthy piece in The New York Times magazine) was that he had always wanted to be president.

By contrast, Obama is bright, attractive and ambitious. Moreover, he has lobbed up a budget just teeming with the kinds of programs that Democrats have longed for -- wealth redistribution, universal health care, and development of green energy. Though he occasionally provides an unwelcome reality check by, for instance, suggesting that teachers need to have more accountability, he generally dishes up a leftist menu that should satisfy even the pickiest vegan. Why, then, does his party seem intent on stifling the flood of goodwill that not only buoyed this president's election returns but that also carried Dems to majority rule?

Maybe... the president's own party does not believe in him. Maybe they think that last year's election was more of a referendum on Sarah Palin than on Barack Obama. Perhaps they doubt his mandate. Or, maybe they are just scared out of their wits that voters will blame them for the ever-rising budget deficit.

On both counts, Democrats are correct to be worried. Though Obama won a decisive victory, it is not clear that voters supported his policies as much as they voted for his personality. As one shot across the bow, a recent Gallup poll indicated that for the first time in 25 years Americans are more concerned with growth than with environmental issues. Oops -- ditch the windmills. Another poll indicates that more Americans oppose Obama's budget than support it.

Clearly the Obama administration has made some false steps -- the most recent being the proposed plan to bill veterans for their own medical care -- and has been exposed as not quite the efficiency juggernaut that was anticipated. In fact, the management of the White House staffing issues has been horrendous. The attacks on Rush Limbaugh have exposed the president as insincere -- they crushed immediately the notion that he would be reaching across the aisle and attempting to dull the nasty Beltway rhetoric.

Indeed, one of the most popular ambitions voiced during the campaign was bringing Americans together and softening the tone of the political debate. This is not the first administration to hold out such a promise, but I think it is fair to say that political acrimony has never been harsher than it was last week. And the collapse of civility was more absolute from Democrats than from Republicans.

At the end, Congressional Democrats have hurt the Obama administration. The brouhaha over AIG bonuses pandered to taxpayers' outrage but may have done serious damage to Geithner's proposed private-public plan to buy up toxic assets. Notwithstanding yesterday's market elation, investors have voiced serious concerns about ending up in Ed Liddy's shoes -- the gent who's attempting to turn around AIG as a public service while being flayed by Congress. Chris Dodd and Barney Frank are smart enough to have understood that their grandstanding carried that risk, but plowed ahead nonetheless, protecting their, ahem, rear flanks.

As Congress starts this week to tackle the enormous, messy and ideologically packed budget, their anxieties will only multiply. Americans are not so sure they want to allow government unfettered inroads into our commercial spaces. In a recent Rasmussen poll, more Americans tapped deficit reduction as their number one concern instead of health care reform. Given the recent GAO estimates for future deficits, taxpayers will be even more vigilant about the real costs of Obama's programs.

If Congress continues to waver in its support of Obama's agenda, the result may be even more internecine warfare and a watered-down list of programs. It will be a sad outcome for the party that has finally won control of the White House and Congress. At the same time, it will prove a pleasant surprise for Republicans. They can just sit back and admire the view.