Congressional Democrats also prevented Obama from nominating the person he evidently wanted for one of the most important jobs a president can fill, chairman of the Federal Reserve.
In a television interview in June, Obama signaled that current chairman Ben Bernanke would retire -- or at least not be renominated.
When attacks were launched on his former economic counselor and Clinton administration treasury secretary, Lawrence Summers, Obama responded with angry defenses. His body language suggested Summers was his choice.
Summers might have been confirmable in July. But there was a crescendo of opposition in left-wing blogs. Many on the feminist left endorsed Janet Yellen, currently Fed vice chairman and like Summers, an economist of genuine intellectual heft.
Last week, four of the 14 Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee came out against Summers. That meant that confirmation would require the other 10 Democrats and at least a few of the 10 Republicans.
You don't have to be an economist of genuine intellectual heft to read those numbers. On Sunday, Summers withdrew -- or was persuaded to withdraw -- from consideration.
One reason for Democrats' discontent with Obama is that he doesn't schmooze with them. As Tip O'Neill used to say, people like to be asked. Obama doesn't like to ask.
Much more important, many Democrats have principled reasons for opposing Obama on NSA, Syria and Summers.
Critics of George W. Bush's war on terror have reason to oppose Obama on NSA and Syria. Economist populists have reason to block a Fed chairman with recent Wall Street ties who is associated with moderate Clinton policies.
The danger for Obama is that he may lose his party base, as Bush did after Katrina and the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers. In which case, his job approval could plummet below the current 44 percent, as Bush's did.
A president with low approval still has executive powers. But he no longer sets the agenda for his party.