It isnt surprising that Republican Members of Congress and their talking heads on television slam the Obama administration every day. Given the partisan divide, thats probably inevitable.
But what is surprising is the growing criticism coming from Democratic circles and from party political insiders of President Barack Obama, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and the White Houses political operation. Not surprisingly, the criticism is coming only on a not-for-attribution basis.
Some Democrats blame what they call the White Houses political tin ear on the nature of the office.
Its hard when you live in this area to understand how bad it is out there, one veteran Washington, D.C., Democrat told me recently. People want jobs. They know that it will take time, but they want to be certain that we are working on it.
The same Democrat noted that this administration, like others, cant always count on people telling the president how bad things are outside the Beltway. When the White House calls, most people figure that to get another call, they better give good news. Tell them how bad things are, and theyll never call you again.
Another Democrat was more pointed about placing blame.
The political operation [in the White House] is a true disaster. Until Dave Plouffe, nobodys job was to watch the politics. Rahm missed Massachusetts, this person said.
Rahm Emanuel, whose successes at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are now part of Democratic Party lore and who was the ultimate Capitol Hill insider, missed Massachusetts? But isnt he always obsessed with the politics of any issue? Isnt that part of the reason why Rahm is such an asset at the White House?
Its the Myth of Rahm, observed one critical Democrat about the White House chief of staff, who has a bigger-than-life reputation in Washington, D.C.
But blaming Emanuel doesnt answer the question entirely. The national media, after all, likes to build people up more than they deserve and tear them down more than warranted. Its what most in the media do. Karl Rove was once considered to be a political genius until things went south for the Bush administration.
The folks at the White House have been up to their eyes in policy, and that has meant less attention to politics, said a thoughtful Democrat.
One problem, according to some observers, is that David Axelrod, a savvy political strategist who understands message and campaigns, has become an Obama believer and has lost some of the perspective he once had. Maybe the lesson is that the White House isnt the best place to work to keep ones critical eye.
Most Democrats seem to think that Plouffes new role as a political coordinator and facilitator could turn out to be a good move for the White House and for Democrats. But they wonder whether he really understands the difficult spot in which Democratic elected officials find themselves.
In his Jan. 24 Washington Post opinion piece, Plouffe urged his fellow Democrats to avoid bed-wetting. Instead of fearing what may happen, he wrote, lets prove that we have more than just the brains to govern that we have the guts to govern.
Plouffes comment was followed a few days later by a similar observation from the president, who told ABC News Diane Sawyer that there is a tendency in Washington to believe that our job description, as elected officials, is to get re-elected. Thats not our job description. Our job description is to solve problems and help people.
The implication, of course, is that Members of Congress shouldnt care what their constituents think and that they should support the presidents agenda even if it hurts them at the polls.
But most Democrats around Capitol Hill who have been fighting in the political trenches around the country have a very different view of what has been going on.
These [Democratic Members] have been taking a lot of tough votes. I havent seen a lot of bed-wetting going on, responded one Democrat on the front lines.
They want to get the heavy lifting done, added another Democrat about the White Houses priorities. They dont care if it costs them the House, the Senate and governors.
Of course, not everyone blames the president and his White House staff. Some think much of the blame should be placed on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
She is utterly tone-deaf. She is supposed to look out for her Members, not just make history. Its reckless what she has done, a Democratic campaign consultant told me.
Still, as Reggie Jackson used to say, we all know who the straw that stirs the drink is its the president. Its up to the White House to set the national agenda, and he ought to know when hes an asset to his party and when hes becoming a problem for them.
Yes, any presidents priority is enacting his agenda, not re-electing some Democratic Congressman from Alabama. But the White House wont help its legislative agenda by its arrogance by telling Members that the president can do no wrong and that its their duty to follow the Obama agenda.
Thats especially true if following his agenda means they will have to jump off a cliff this year while the president will have two more years, after November, to save himself politically.