President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, and Speaker Pelosi have accomplished much — and are running for their political lives
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 20, 2010


In a less politically charged world, the triumvirate of Democratic political leaders in Washington — President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — might now be taking victory laps over one of the most productive two-year sessions in decades.

They have, after all, stormed a city that most people thought of as intractable, inept, and in the pocket of special interests, and defied the odds by delivering major legislation and policy changes on economic stimulus, health-care insurance, consumer credit protection, financial-industry regulation, the conduct of two wars, and much more.

But of course, this is a politically charged world. And, perhaps more importantly, economic recovery remains slow, and unemployment remains high. So, with the midterm elections less than two weeks away, the Obama/Pelosi/Reid trio is suffering slings and arrows from all directions — and all three are, in different ways, fighting for their political lives.

Perhaps it's because the conservative media has whipped up the notion of a socialist takeover. Maybe it's Republicans trying to keep voter attention on Washington Democrats, and not on their own flawed candidates. Or maybe it's just to be expected when you have national elections in the middle of nearly 10-percent unemployment.

Whatever the reason, it is certainly the case that Obama, Pelosi, and Reid are all under assault — and all three could wake up to a radically altered political life on November 3. But what's at stake is very different for each. One is not on the ballot at all. One could be returned to private life. And one could be toppled from power despite winning re-election.

Obama: New direction
The right-wing noise machine has been backing away from its craziest talk about Obama — that he was born in Kenya, that he is a Muslim, or that he hates America, for instance.

That's because they think they have him on the ropes without the nutty talk. Obama's favorability rating has been under 50 percent most of the year. Republicans need only remind people of the struggling economy; despite the administration's claims that things could be much worse, it is clear that growth is not as good as the president and his top economic advisors believed would be the case by now.

And unlike George W. Bush, whose conservative base solidified in the face of opposition criticism, Obama has had trouble with the progressive faithful on his left flank. They are upset with him on a wide range of issues, including his conduct of the Afghanistan War and his failure to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. When Obama campaigned for Deval Patrick in Boston this past weekend — part of his tour of select, mostly solid-blue areas of the country — he was twice interrupted by protestors from the left, complaining about his policies on gay-rights issues.

Obama himself has recently said that he did not do enough to sell his agenda to mainstream Americans. He has actually been surprisingly resilient given the circumstances — while he hasn't regained 50-percent approval, he has generally stayed over 45 percent, despite the discouraging economic news, the massive BP oil spill, and rough reports on the international front.

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