As I write this it's still not clear whether there has been agreement between Barack Obama and both houses of Congress to raise the debt ceiling to enable the US Government to go on paying its bills after 2nd August.
But if an agreement is hammered out, it seems quite clear that in the course of reaching it, Obama will have given so much ground to the Republicans - and indeed the hard-right Tea Party faction - on the spending cuts vs tax increases mix, that it is unclear how his presidency in any way still reflects the priorities of the Democratic party.
The US budget deficit is caused by three policies in particular, two of which are the fault of the previous administration led by the election thief and war criminal George W Bush, and one of which is a bi-partisan failure over several decades. The bi-partisan failure is the decision by successive presidents and congresses to cultivate an unstable and unsustainable economy built on "junk" finance, which imploded twice in the 2000s: first in the "dot com" crash of 2000-01 and then (much more seriously) in the financial near-collapse of 2008. As Richard Wolff notes on CiF, no part of the US economy (save corporate profits) has recovered to any meaningful extent since 2009. The best that can be said for Obama's inadequate stimulus package of 2009 is that it stopped things getting any worse; but that is winding down now, and consequently the US economy is sinking deeper into a hole.
The fiscal crisis is exacerbated by two policies which were the mainstay of the Bush presidency: (1) huge tax cuts for the wealthiest few percent of the population, and (2) a vast increase in military spending to pursue the "war on terror".
As a clear election winner in 2008 (unlike Bush in his two election "victories"), Obama had a golden opportunity to reverse policy on all three of these fronts. Sadly, he has failed completely on all three. His only domestic policy success was on healthcare reform - admittedly an area where all his predecessors had failed - but even there, the reform which emerged fell well short of what is needed.
What he has managed to do, instead, is to preside over the birth of a movement, the "Tea Party", extreme even by the standards of the US right which takes some doing, which is systematically trying to destroy American democracy by creating the conditions for a coup by big business interests. This was last attempted during the Roosevelt administration of the 1930s by a number of industrialists sympathetic to fascism who believed the US could be reconstructed along the lines of Nazi Germany. It failed then, but it might succeed now; it is increasingly likely that China will be the model for a 21st century "Tea Party-esque" US, with elections suspended (probably on the grounds of saving money) and the Republican party installed as the de facto equivalent of the Chinese Communist Party. (In passing, I note that it is ironic that Van Patten claims that the 'left' in US politics - Bill Clinton, etc - are the "Chinese agents" when in fact what the Tea Party want to do is far closer to current Chinese political practice than anything you will find among the Democrats).
Barack Obama's reponse to the Tea Party threat - and the Republican challenge generally - has been to compromise so far with it that he has managed to completely alienate his own supporters. I would imagine that not since the dog days of the Carter administration in 1979/80 has the Democratic base been so demoralised and let down. And there is a severe danger for Obama that the result of the 2012 Presidential election will be very similar to the 1980 election. I still maintain, whatever the bullshit the right will try to feed you, that Ronald Reagan was a relatively weak Republican candidate who would have lost to any Democratic incumbent with a basic level of nous and competence; the tragedy for Jimmy Carter - probably the most thoroughly decent man to hold the Presidency since 1945 - was that, in 1980, he appeared to possess neither nous nor competence.
Barack Obama also appears to lack competence and nous, but in a different way from Carter. Obama seems to want to be the bipartisan statesman in an era where bipartisanship is impossible; there is pretty much no common ground between the Tea Party and your average liberal Democrat. By failing to stand up for a deficit reduction package which includes at least (say) a 50/50 mix between tax increases and spending cuts, Obama is making it more likely that the GOP will demand more and more crazy right-wing policy concessions - because he lacks the backbone to turn round and tell them to take a hike. If you're a hard right Republican congressperson, what is the downside to taking an extreme right wing policy stance? None, because the President will meet you half-way (or in fact 90% of the way) whatever you say. As of now, I expect a deal to be done on the debt ceiling at the 11th hour - and it will be disastrous for the Democrats.
Even so, it is quite possible that Barack Obama could still win re-election in 2012 - but only against an out-and-out wacko candidate, most obviously Bachmann. I think if the Republicans nominate Perry or Romney, Obama is toast. I'd love to be proved wrong on that, but - allowing for the temporary bounce from the announcement that bin Laden had been killed - Obama's poll ratings have been in freefall for 2 years now. And there is simply no sign of the economic bounce that might help him recover.
Bizarrely enough though, all is not lost for the Democrats at Congressional level if they can fight fire with fire - essentially by becoming the "anti-Tea Party". There is clear evidence from opinion polling that huge numbers of US citizens think that the Us political system has now broken down, and the country is now being run in the interests of a few wealthy bankers and industrialists. The Tea Party channelled anger at the banking bailout - which was viewed (to a large extent rightly) as a huge transfer of resources away from ordinary working people to a gang of exploitative and reckless overlords) - into a right-wing populism. The antidote to that - and the way to expose the Tea Party as a shameless "astroturf" operation funded by oligarchs like the Koch brothers - must be a left-wing populism.
The best way forward for the Democratic party would be if the 2012 Congressional elections threw up the biggest bunch of hard-left socialist Democratic candidates seen in America in modern times - pro-union, anti-Wall Street and anti big business. They would be extremely well-placed to ride a wave of anti-establishment - and indeed anti-Obama - feeling as the spending cuts bite and the economy continues to flatline.
If Obama does manage to get re-elected, an "anti-Tea Party" Democratic bloc in Congress could be a very useful mechanism for pushing him leftwards - particularly if the Democrats can recapture the House of Representatives. Conversely, if a Republican wins the presidency, it will be vital for the Democrats to provide a counterweight to the Tea Party which will undoubtedly be pushing even harder for extremist policies. Either way, the last thing the US needs is a "centrist" (read: hard-right) Democratic party following their President as he sleepwalks into whatever the next disaster is.