WASHINGTON -- Democrats have a long history of fighting among themselves, but the spectacle of the White House attacking its liberal base and party leaders distancing themselves from their president in the midst of a critical midterm election is a new low even for them.
Democratic candidates from Texas to Indiana do not want to be seen campaigning with President Obama. His chief spokesman says the president's critics in the party's left wing ought to be drug tested because of their extremist views on health care and defense. And Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid rejects Obama's insensitive remarks supporting the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
Individually, each of these issues reflect a party at war with itself. Collectively, they suggest a dysfunctional party in turmoil that raises profound questions about its inability to govern and a troubling disconnection from mainstream America.
The party's internecine divisions broke wide open when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told the Hill newspaper last week: "I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it's crazy."
Gibbs, clearly operating with the full approval of the president's high command, made it clear that he was talking about the party's "professional left," who will not be satisfied until "we have Canadian health care and we've eliminated the Pentagon."
Gibbs did not name names, but he was obviously talking about the Moveon.org people and other activists on the far left who helped elect Obama and are now lobbying missiles at him on everything from his timid economic policies to the widening war in Afghanistan.
No sooner was that issue bubbling on the party's front burner than Obama unloaded another hot button issue at a time when the party wanted its full focus to be on the dismal economy and 10 percent unemployment. At a White House dinner celebrating the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, he made it very clear that he supports the construction of the 13-story Islamic cultural center that will include a mosque about two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood.
That triggered an explosion of criticism in his party, both private and public, culminating Monday with a statement from Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid. who said the president was wrong and that the mosque should be built somewhere else. If other Democrats were reluctant to publicly distance themselves from the president, Reid's statement was the green light that they shouldn't hold back.