- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2015

In early 2008 liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy blessed Barack Obama’s long shot presidential campaign, declaring the freshman Illinois senator the next great progressive leader in a symbolic passing of the torch.

On Monday, Mr. Obama heads to Massachusetts to honor Kennedy, who died in 2009 — but liberals’ enthusiasm for the president has waned from those days, and the left has moved on to other champions, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who now sits in the seat Kennedy used to hold.

While liberals have praised Mr. Obama for making health care reform a reality, taking dramatic action on climate change and addressing other issues, many on the left also feel he hasn’t gone far enough and has failed to energize the progressive movement in the way they envisioned. Some leading liberals, such as filmmaker Michael Moore, have gone so far as to label the president a “huge disappointment.”

Powerful progressive groups say the president has missed key opportunities to take stronger action and say his recent bump in the polls can be attributed to a push for free community college, a strong stand in favor of net neutrality, executive action on immigration reform and other items high on the liberal agenda.

“Voters want to see even more bold, progressive action moving forward, not small-bore ideas that appeal to the lowest common denominator,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said earlier this month, charging that Democrats failed in the 2014 midterms because Mr. Obama and other party leaders didn’t move far enough to the political left in pushing for greater action on income inequality, more taxing of the rich and in other areas.

“Democrats lost in 2014 because they weren’t talking enough about big ideas, and Democrats will win in 2016 if they embrace an economic populist agenda,” he said.

Mr. Green and a host of other liberal leaders are pushing the Democratic Party in the direction of Mrs. Warren, a freshman firebrand who in just a few years has risen from a relatively unknown consumer advocate to perhaps the nation’s most powerful progressive voice.

Despite rising pressure from many on the left, Mrs. Warren has refused to jump into the 2016 presidential race and also does not appear interested in seeking the post of Senate Democratic leader following next year’s retirement of Sen. Harry Reid.

Still, Mrs. Warren has become a liberal leader both literally and symbolically, as she holds Kennedy’s old Senate seat after it briefly fell into the Republican hands of Scott Brown. Enthusiasm around Mrs. Warren now resembles the wild optimism that surrounded Mr. Obama’s campaign in early 2008, when he received a coveted endorsement from Kennedy.

Kennedy, long seen as a liberal leader in the Democratic party, will be honored Monday at the unveiling of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston.

Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and other officials will attend the ceremony.

Kennedy’s endorsement of Mr. Obama’s campaign in early 2008 was a shot in the arm that ultimately helped propel the president past Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was the front-runner then — as she is now.

In a speech announcing the endorsement, Kennedy proclaimed that Mr. Obama would transform the nation and also would become the next great progressive leader, even invoking the hallowed name of President John F. Kennedy in comparison.

“There was another time when another young candidate was running for president and challenging America to cross a new frontier,” Kennedy said in his endorsement speech, referring to his elder brother. “So it is with Barack Obama. He has lit a spark of hope amid the fierce urgency of now. I believe that a wave of change is moving across America.”

Mr. Obama undoubtedly has taken a host of actions his liberal base approves of, but there have been plenty of high-profile instances in which the president has encountered a serious backlash from the left.

Most recently, environmentalists and Hollywood stars blasted the president for a new plan to govern fracking on public lands, arguing that Mr. Obama should ban the practice altogether.

“The Obama administration has devised fracking regulations that are nothing more than a giveaway to the oil and gas industry,” said actor Mark Ruffalo, who serves on the advisory board of Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of environmental and liberal groups opposed to the oil-and-gas drilling technique.

Political specialists say liberal frustration with Mr. Obama is somewhat unfair, and that any other progressive favorite, including Mrs. Warren, would fail to live up to the left’s sky-high expectations once inside the Oval Office.

“Progressive liberal leaders, much like hard-core conservatives, kind of have an illusion about how far and how much one person can change politics in Washington,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University.

“There’s a great deal of ideological purity before anyone is elected. To a certain degree [liberals] may be disappointed, but I also think they’re sort of unrealistically disappointed,” she said.

⦁ Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide