Opinion: Obama's Enthusiasm Gap is a Major Problem

"I'm sure I'll vote for him…but I won't work for him."

That common refrain captured the mood toward President Obama's reelection bid at Netroots Nation, the annual conference of progressive bloggers and activists last month in Minneapolis.

The Obama Administration has disappointed its base repeatedly, from strategic disappointments such as taking a single-payer option off the table before the debate over healthcare reform even began. There have been failures to hold anyone in the Bush Administration accountable for their legally questionable actions. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued for years, and tax cuts for the rich have been extended.

Meanwhile, there's been no real movement on climate change or immigration. As labor, Planned Parenthood and other progressive allies have faced debilitating attacks, the Administration has mounted its own assault on progressive achievements, most recently buying into conservative frames and opening the conversation to cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

Yet, compared to the candidates vying for the GOP nod -- climate change deniers, Sharia Law alarmists, anti-gay bigots -- the President is a great option. And his team knows that. They know that 77 percent of Democrats still approve of the job he's doing, which is why they can take their base for granted and make plays for the middle.  

While some organizations like the PCCC are urging progressives to withhold their vote should Obama pursue cuts to our critical social safety net programs, few doubt that when it comes down to Obama vs. Romney or, more starkly, Obama vs. Bachmann, liberals will pull the predictable lever in the voting booth.

In terms of counting votes, it's not a bad strategy. But in terms of building a governing majority, it will be a disaster.

President Obama can win again, though the unemployment totals (not fundraising goals) are the numbers that should scare him most. But what happens if he wins with the votes, but without the enthusiastic support, of his base?

First, he loses seats in both houses of Congress. His coattails will not be long if he can't excite Democratic voters. While the 2010 tidal wave has run its course, the threat of losing the Senate is real. We've seen what happens to the House under Tea Party influence.

Giving the GOP a greater majority, or control of the other chamber, will guarantee a long, frustrating second term.

Second, if Obama wins and the Democrats keep some center of power on Capitol Hill, they still run the risk of having no enthusiastic constituency to back them up. As the past two and a half years have demonstrated, it's not enough to win. Your activists need to keep fighting - giving you cover, earning you media, pushing your agenda forward. And when your most passionate supporters aren't attending their local Town Hall meetings and aren't echoing your message in every local media outlet, your agenda stalls.

Andrew Cuomo did a masterful job tapping into a passionate constituency to pass marriage equality in New York. On the flipside, when the DNC sent messages in December asking Democrats to take action on behalf of the budget compromise, which included tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, it hardly stirred hearts and minds.

The president's job isn't just to win the White House. It's to have a mandate, strategy and the mechanisms to promote his agenda and govern effectively. That shouldn't come only from the Left, but without progressive organizers at his back, President Obama will be stuck in neutral. That might win an election, but it won't - in a favorite White House phrase, "win the future."

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."