Monday, March 08, 2010

Return to Brook Farm: we're not there yet

Two years ago I did a post about an article by Elizabeth Drew in which she seemed to yearn for that High Broderian paradise of a world run on "bipartisanship". I compared her vision to the famous 19th-century utopian community of Brook Farm, Massachusetts.

The "Hive" at Brook Farm

In that post I was thinking most immediately of Obama's willingness to campaign hard in the general election if he were the Democratic nominee. As it turned out, he campaigned hard enough. But I'm sorry to say that some of my concerns from then turned out to be justified. Quoting from that post:

I certainly will support Obama with enthusiasm over 100-Years-War McCain - though neither Obama's or Clinton's program on getting out of the Iraq War is adequate. But Obama's post-partisan hopes give me more of a chill than a thrill when I think of how determined and relentlessly partisan today's authoritarian Republican Party is. ...

Hey, I'd love to change the "zeitgeist" in Washington, too. Personally, I have a soft spot in my heart for the zeitgeist of the Fourier-inspired communes in the early nineteenth century. If the spirit of the age in Washington became Fourierism instead of Cheneyism, I don't doubt it would be a vast improvement. (But then so would Nixonism!) Yeah, Brook Farm on the Potomac. Sounds good to me. Gets my inner hippie all excited and stuff.
That post contained a campaign quote from Obama:

Everybody has got a ten-point plan on everything. You go to Senator Clinton's Web site, my Web site, they look identical.... The problem is not the lack of proposals. The question is, who can bring Democrats, independents, and Republicans into a working majority to bring about change. That's what we're doing in this campaign. This is what a working majority looks like. That's how we're going to move the country forward. That's what I offer that [Hillary Clinton] can't do. [my emphasis]
My concern at that time was whether this was campaign boilerplate or whether he seriously thought an Obama administration could function on such a basis.

I also said then:

I really don't mean to be cynical about this. Hey, I'm a Jacksonian Democrat, I really believe in change being demanded "from the bottom up". Pretty much every reform or major policy change to benefit working people has come about that way, as far as I can see. Without that, we have two parties of Big Capital arguing over the best way to bail out billionaires who, say, staked a lot of cash on Bear Stearns. Just to take a random example. And I think we could very well be experiencing a national "democratic moment", to use a Jerry Brown term.

But my question is this. If Cheney and Bush can lose the Presidential election and still take power, if they can get more-or-less everything they want for years including a war of aggression in Iraq with a thin or smaller margin in Congress, why can't the Democrats get some of our programs through? When the Dems got a majority in both Houses of Congress in the 2006 elections, it suddenly became conventional wisdom among the punditocracy that you couldn't pass anything in the Senate unless you had 60 votes. They didn't think that when the Dems were in the minority. The Republicans were willing to flush the filibuster tradition in the Senate down the toilet to get their reactionary judges approved. In fact, when Clinton was in office they blocked all kinds of judicial appointments so that they had lots of judicial openings when the Scalia Five put Cheney and Bush in office.

That new zeitgeist isn't going to be worth much if it doesn't also result in what Drew seems to think is a trivial matter, "passing bills". Sure, it much more dull for our bored press corps than partying with the Maverick at his "rustic cabin". But "passing bills" to provide universal health care or provide better protection for union organizing sounds pretty doggone good to me.

And Republicans aren't going to change until the Democrats learn how to fight them effectively. When President Obama shows that he can ram important programs through Congress repeatedly despite the scorched-earth opposition tactics of the Cheneyized Republican Party, then we'll have some of them talking "constructive bipartisanship" or some such thing.

The Democrats' biggest problem during the travesty of democracy known as the Cheney-Bush administration has not been that they weren't too willing to be bipartisan. On the contrary, they were willing to be bipartisan by lying down and letting the Republicans roll right over them, again and again. ...

Now Obama doesn't strike me as a fearful man. But I can't help but worry that for some Dems, the illusion of making it to Brook Farm without having to fight the Republicans is a big part of his appeal. If we're going to get to the Promised Land, or even capture of few parcels of it, it's not going to be [accomplished] by our party leaders being too afraid to fight the Republicans. And, sad to say, that's what too many of them have been the last several years.
That same basic dilemma is still acting as an anchor hung around the necks of the Obama administration and the Democratic majorities in the Congress.

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