Obama probably understands this dynamic better as his own poll numbers sink not only among independents but with his base, which has convinced itself that his -- and the country's -- problems stem from appeasing the conservative bear. Obama's bizarre harangue of the Congressional Black Caucus on Saturday -- "Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying" -- was a testament to the cratering enthusiasm of his biggest supporters.
The dilemma for Obama is that non-liberals don't see the situation the same way. As nearly every poll shows, more than 70 percent of Americans believe we're on the wrong track, and the number of people calling themselves conservative continues to grow, as does the number of moderates who say they lean to the right. According to Pew, the average voter places himself twice as far from Democrats as he does from Republicans.
Moreover, notes Brookings Institution scholar William Galston, a domestic policy advisor under President Clinton, the average voter thinks the Democrats are much more liberal than the average liberal does. "So when independents, who see themselves as modestly right of center, say that Democrats are too liberal, average Democrats can't imagine what they're talking about."
And it's not just about labels (though labels matter). According to Gallup, Americans believe 51 cents out of every dollar sent to Washington is wasted. That's rough terrain for selling more spending and higher taxes.
So here's Obama in a very rough spot. He needs more than just his base to win, yet he can't win without his base. But he can't secure it without slapping the bear even more. And unlike Ron Burgundy, he's really got no one to blame but himself.