On the Diversity Of Opinion Among Democrats

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From day one of his administration, the left has held Barack Obama's feet to the fire way more than the right ever did to George W, Bush -- at least until Bush's nomination of Harriet Meirs to the Supreme Court. Put another way: the diversity of opinion about Obama and his presidency among activist Dems far exceeds early Bush-era diversity of opinion among activist GOPers. Now -- a few caveats. 


One -- this isn't just a case of a journalist discovering -- gasp -- that liberals aren't monolithic. It's an observation about a significant difference in the political context in which Obama governs. Democrats like and support Obama, as do liberals, but they're willing to be openly critical -- not always, but often enough, some more than others, in different forums.
Two -- it's early in the administration. Obama hasn't had his 9/11 game-changing moment, which, briefly, united the country around the former president. Perhaps the progressive universe will be less tolerant of internal criticism if some unexpected event intervenes.

Three -- the progressive world developed and matured its protest/activist/speak freely orientation through technology, from the bottom up, as party coherence declined and Democratic leaders in Congress were generally seen as feckless.

And I attribute some of the disparity to differences in expectations: Obama came into office with much greater expectations placed upon him -- in some cases deliberately and intentionally self-imposed -- than Bush did.

But still -- one wonders how President Bush would have governed if the right had been critical of Bush from the start -- if uniformity and hierarchy hadn't characterized the Republican Party from 2001 to 2004.  I'm not so sure that the difference is one of temperament -- there are plenty of internal, dissenting voices within the GOP now, though they're having virtually no effect on the party's leaders. And it's also true that, as the Democratic opposition developed during the Bush years, parts of it fell victim to the temptation and safety of dogma and in-group, out-group prejudice as well.

The point is that, as he governs, Obama faces a complication -- or a change -- that Bush never did -- internal opposition with a loud voice.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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