Pew Research Center Founding Director Andrew Kohut wrote an important Washington Post column last month highlighting the Democratic drift leftward during the Obama administration. Backed by decades of Pew data, Kohut concluded that Democrats have grown just as liberal as Republicans have become more conservative in recent years. "They are much more socially liberal than they were even a decade ago, more supportive of an activist government, more in favor of increased regulation of business," Kohut writes.
It's a useful corrective to the notion, fueled by the White House, that the Republican Party alone is responsible for gridlock in Washington. But Kohut downplays one significant factor that has expedited the Democratic polarization: President Obama himself.
In the piece, Kohut instinctively labels the Obama administration as centrist. But on all five major issues that divide the Democratic Party's liberals and moderates — the budget deficit, income inequality, the environment, social issues, and America's role in the world — Obama is on the leftward side.
Liberals give low priority to dealing with the deficit. Obama's recent budget avoids tackling entitlement reform, and he's condemned the GOP's focus on austerity. As The New York Times reports, his $3.9 trillion budget "seeks to energize Democratic voters with populist proposals like a more generous tax credit for the working poor, paid for with higher taxes on the rich." Likewise, liberals are the only political segment in the Pew survey that expresses majority support for paying higher prices to help the environment. Last month, Obama imposed executive orders regulating higher fuel efficiency for trucks, and steered $1 billion in his budget to tackle global warming. The Obama administration's indefinite delays on approving the Keystone XL pipeline is a clear sign that he's on the leftward side of the Democratic divide.