Are they talking about the same president? Sadly for Obama, yes.

By coincidence, I happened to watch this ad for Sarah Palin’s political action committee right on the heels of the reading this essay by Eric Alterman in the Nation. Try it, if you like cognitive dissonance.

Palin’s ad, called Mamma Grizzlies, is getting attention for its presidential-campaign-ad quality and emphasis on women “risin’ up” and “Lotta women comin’ together.” There is a “Mom awakening,” says Palin, because “Moms just kinda know when something’s wrong…” It’s an emotionally-charged ad that has a bit of the grassroots-empowerment inspirational flavour that some of Obama’s ads had – except here in the context of gender rather than race. And it’s an effective theme for her in the context of a bumper crop of female GOP candidates this year (Nikki Haley, Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman) many of whom Palin supported politically and financially through her SarahPac. But what struck me was the repetition of a key phrase that had nothing to do with gender and everything to do with articulating and seeding a critique of the Democratic Congress and Obama. The phrase is: “a fundamental transformation of America.” She doesn’t give any specifics – only mentions “these policies coming out of DC.” But repeats “fundamental transformation” and it sure sounds like something BIG.

Meanwhile, in the opening paragraphs of this essay, Eric Alterman, laments, grieves, and catalogues the Left’s many beefs with Obama whose presidency he declares a “disappointment.” The rest of the essay is a long-winded sort of absolution of the president (by blaming everyone else George W. Bush to the Supreme Court to Fox News) for Obama’s failure to do something BIGGER – as implied in the title, “Why a Progressive Presidency is Impossible for Now.”

Alterman comes up with a variety of theories for the Great Disappointment:

“It’s possible that he fooled gullible progressives during the election into believing he was a left-liberal partisan when in fact he is much closer to a conservative corporate shill. An awful lot of progressives, including two I happen to know who sport Nobel Prizes on their shelves, feel this way, and their perspective cannot be completely discounted.”

Compared to (one presumes) Paul Krugman, Alterman is more charitable:

Personally, I tend more toward the view expressed by the young, conservative New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, that Obama is “a doctrinaire liberal who’s always willing to cut a deal and grab for half the loaf. He has the policy preferences of a progressive blogger, but the governing style of a seasoned Beltway wheeler-dealer.” Or as one of Obama’s early Chicago mentors, Denny Jacobs, explained to his biographer David Remnick, Obama is a pol who learned early that “sometimes you can’t get the whole hog, so you take the ham sandwich.”

And here, in a nutshell, is the Democrats’ challenge heading into the November mid-term elections — which, people who analyze such things say, are all about voter turnout at polls since voter participation drops significantly in a non-presidential year. If the Obama presidency amounts to one man’s disappointing “ham sandwich” and another woman’s scary “fundamental transformation of America,” that says something about who will stay home on Election Day and who will fire up the minivan and carpool to the polls.