Friday, February 12, 2010

Gene Lyons: "Democrats must advance, not retreat"

I hope they have the sense to see it that way.

I know I quote Gene Lyons' column pretty much every week. That's because one Gene Lyons column is worth a thousand by Tom Friedman. Gene's latest is Don't give in to media-inspired fatalism Salon 02/10/10. He points out that, however inadvertent it may have been, Obama and the Democrats actually stood up to the Republicans a couple of times in the last few days - and won the immediate confrontations:

The TV networks want conflict? The Obama administration needs to give them conflict. How long did Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby persist in putting a "blanket hold" on administration nominees after his attempt to blackmail the administration into awarding a defense contract to (Alabama-based) Northrup over Boeing once the White House made it front-page news? Two days.

How long did it take House Republican leaders to start crawfishing away from Obama's proposed nationally televised healthcare summit? Also two days. See, the last thing GOP leadership wants the public to understand are the bill's conservative elements: its reliance on private, not government insurance; that it will cut the deficit and slow spending growth; that it gives consumers more choice, more security and more freedom.

So let Republicans sulk. Hold the summit without them. Then pass the bill without them, too. The president must lead his skittish party. The GOP can make Obama look weak only if he helps them.
As we've seen over the last year, success has a tendency to terrify much the Democratic leadership and send them rushing to find some way to surrender to Republican bullying. But maybe even they can learn some from incidents like this.

Other pundits like economists Paul Krugman and Simon Johnson reacted with distress to Obama's praise of extravagant salaries at banks that are dependent on the public purse to protect them from the extremes of risk they may take on. Excerpts were released earlier. But the interview is published as Obama's Corporate Messaging Bloomberg Business Week 02/10/10. Krugman's initial reaction was, "We're doomed." He later softened it to "Maybe it was a bit strong for me to say that we’re doomed, but this really is shocking and dispiriting."

They are right to be dismayed. Democrats have good reason to worry that Obama is so committed to the "neoliberal" model of deregulation, low taxes for the wealthy and minimizing the non-security functions of the government that he's not going to be able to get decisive wins on issues like health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act that are important to the public, to organized labor and to the Democratic base. But if he and his Party actually decide to do so, the opportunity is still there.

Gene Lyons also showed much better sense on Sarah Palin this week that those Big Pundits like David Broder and Joe Klein who jumped on the bandwagon of what seems to be a change of script among the punditocracy. (Glenn Greenwald and Joan Walsh, have the links and commentary on this sad development.) During the campaign, our Pod Pundits quickly settled on the script that Palin is a dummy and a lightweight - which in this instance was closer to reality-based than many of their scripts. But in the strange dimension in which our punditocracy operate, that meant that they focused on Tiny Fay's parodies of Palin and neglected to look hard at her close ties to political rightwing extremists and religious crackpots.

But it's not surprising to me that our Pod Pundits are making such a change. Since they have notions of what Real Americans are like that are at least as weird as those of the small-town grifter who became Governor of Alaska. So it was always obvious that they might decide that her ditzy and dogmatic pronouncements were not dumb but instead frank, direct, speaking to the deep feelings of Real Americans, and so on. If our punditocracy - I heard Jerry Brown on a radio program the other day call it the "pundocracy" - was composed of professional journalists, they might have been embarrassed to be declaring Palin the Great White Hope in a week where a new Washington Post poll showed her already-low popularity to be dropping significantly. But, obviously, in the world in which we actually live, such embarrassment is unthinkable.

UC-Berkeley linguist Robin Lakoff - not to be confused with George Lakoff, also at UC-Berkeley - gets into the Sarah-is-the-Real-American game because she comes off as "a mommy – but also a babe." Sadly, I'm not making that up: Listening to Palin The Berkeley Blog 02/10/10.

Gene Lyons, on the other hand, writes:

Palin's is an inchoate, purely tribal appeal, akin to her description of persons like herself as "real Americans." Making the rest of us exactly what?

That said, she's a TV personality, nothing more. It's a mistake to give in to media-inspired fatalism. Obama can only pray that a divisive lightweight like Palin is his 2012 GOP opponent. Meanwhile, as he's taken to reminding Democrats in Congress, their 59-41 Senate majority remains the largest either party has enjoyed in a generation. Democrats must advance, not retreat. [my emphasis]
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