President Obama's Coalition Faces Strains

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"I was there for the speech in 2008," Berger said, recalling then-candidate Obama's address to an electrified audience of at least 84,000 supporters. "I worked for Howard Dean [who was the DNC chair at the time] and with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is part of Bold Progressives," a partisan group that drives support for Democratic candidates at all levels.

But Berger's view of the party and the president has changed.

"The Democratic party is, at best, a tool of change," he said. "It's a forum for battle; it's not someone or something on our side."

Like Kalmbacher, Berger lost his patience during the post-bailout fight for bank reform.

He called President Obama's decision to hire old hands like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner instructive: The American economic infrastructure was collapsing, but the president chose the same people who had authored or implemented apparently disastrous anti-regulatory policies to "fix" it.

"The challenge is that a relatively small amount of people decide what happens," Berger said, "and then they are totally insulated from the results. ... The investor class, not workers with IRAs or people with 401(k)s, but private equity groups and hedge fund managers, have been doing great."

So what now? Berger believes that the "bad faith" of Democratic and Republican negotiators has made it impossible to pursue meaningful change through even grassroots party politics.

"We need to take the fight to the people -- we need strikes, we need to disrupt the economy of the '1 percent,'" he said.

"At some point, you need to stop banging your head against the wall ... and just tear down the wall."

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