Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"I can’t stand you, now go vote for me"

I'm getting the sinking feeling that we may be on the verge of a major political realignment, one not at all like the one many Obama supporters hoped for in 2008. It's looking more and more like the Democratic leadership assumes that they can build a new electoral base founded on a largely mythical middle. And that they will do so by provoking what they can pass off as fights between "the left" and the "mainstream" Democratic Party.

I doubt the realignment, if such an event occurs, will look like what the Democratic leadership envisions. The more likely short-term effect is to empower the Republicans and to force the Democrats to fight the Republicans for years to come on political ground largely defined by the Republicans. If you have both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party running against the Democrats - which is what the current "punch the hippies" strategy looks like - these doesn't really seem the most favorable position for the Democratic Party.

And, we should never forget, this is the first election in which we're seeing the already huge effects of the reactionary Roberts Court ruling in Citizens United that effectively eliminated limits on corporate sponsorship of political advertising in elections.

One thing is important to remember about the "enthusiasm gap": neither labor nor the Democratic netroots nor any major Democratic constituency is promoting a boycott of the November elections. If past experience and common sense are any measures, Democrats who have been active enough to volunteer for campaign work or participate in some kind of organized political activity - Democratic activists, in other words - are highly likely to vote, and to vote down the line for Democratic candidates.

But, to borrow a marketing term, having the wholesale voting market in good shape doesn't mean that the retail market will be as good. Okay, it's a flawed analogy but we all speak neoliberal-"market-economy"-speak these days. Most voters, including many loyal Democratic voters who make up part of the base without being "activists", vote on broad themes and perceptions. (On this point, George Lakoff's analyses are useful.) It's a midterm election, where conservative affluent Republicans are chronically over-represented in voter participation compared to Presidential elections years. The economy sucks for most people. Most people can see that the economy is again doing very, very well for Wall Street bankers and hedge funds managers, thanks to huge taxpayers bailouts. That doesn't mean that the retail customers want to buy the Republican widget in November. It does mean a lot of them are likely to not feel the need to buy the Democratic widget either.

This is important to remember. Because, whether by design or by the dead weight of conventional thinking, the White House message is beginning to be not just that base voters should look on the bright side or, more precisely, look at how much darker the Republican alternative is. It's that the Democratic left is discouraging people from voting. Unless you abstract the political contest this fall to the point where it's like a sports event, Our Team against Their Team, that's not the case. On the contrary, progressive activists have been publicizing the screaming lunacy of much of the Tea Party hoopla, much better than the establishment Democrats have been able to pull themselves together to do. By contrast, look at Obama's nicey-nice description of the Tea Party in the Rolling Stone interview linked below (though he does manage to mention its corporate financing).

David Dayen - from whom I borrowed the phrase I use for the title of this post - asks a common-sense question, Has the White House Lost Their Minds? Firedoglake News Desk 09/28/2010, based on a common-sense observation that the Bash-the-Base strategy doesn't even make sense in pure sports-event terms:

Have you ever seen an athlete stay in the game for too long (no intentional resemblance to any quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings) because they cannot imagine a world without the adulation and cheering? That's about the only analogy I can make to the persistent carping inside the White House, now a definitive strategy and part of the President's stump speech, telling the liberal base to "stop whining," "get over it," "wake up" and "get in gear." ...

Before revealing the latest in this genre, I would just add that I've never seen a politician run an election with the message "Don't be stupid, quit your bitching and vote for me." This goes orders of magnitude beyond "Here are the stakes, my opponent would vote against everything you care about.["] That at least has a certain time-tested quality. That would make the election a choice and not a referendum. But "vote for me, you simpletons"? There's a reason that strategy has never been employed: because it's so insane to think that open berating would inspire a voter to action. [my emphasis]
Following are some of the other key pieces discussing the the current remarkable political line the White House is taking:

Jann Wenner, Obama in Command: The Rolling Stone Interview Rolling Stone 09/28/2010. The opening paragraphs of this interview are remarkable, in that Obama said that the Republicans showed him very early on that they intended to pursue a destructive course, including a fundamental opposition to his economic recovery measures. And then he explains how he knew the Senate filibuster rule was a destructive thing and "that the machinery there [in the Senate] was breaking down".

What's remarkable is not those observations. They are plainly accurate and were publicly obvious to anyone who was paying attention. What's remarkable is that he claims to have understood this early on, but then continued to pursue a policy of compromise designed to gain bipartisan support that he knew wasn't going to be there. If the President of the United States is saying that the functioning of the Upper House "was breaking down", shouldn't he and his Party have done something about it? For one thing, they had a 60-vote majority for part of Obama's term in the Senate. And the filibuster rule is a Senate rule that is enacted by a majority vote of the Senate and can be changed by a majority vote of the Senate.

Digby, On Hippie Punching Hullabaloo 09/26/2010. Digby explains the history of hippie-punching. Include the origin of the "DFH" ironic self-designation by liberal bloggers: "damn fucking hippie," in its less urbane original version.

Joan Walsh, Say it ain't so, Joe Salon 09/27/2010. Though a bit defensive about the accusation of discouraging people from voting, she writes:

It's true that the healthcare and financial reform bills were the most ambitious, far-reaching social legislation since the Great Society. You add in the $787 billion stimulus package, and it seems like a trifecta of social change that should have progressives ecstatic – especially when you consider that the right considers all of that legislation proof that Obama is a socialist.

Of course the problem is that all three of those accomplishments were the product of ugly, maybe even uglier-than-usual compromise, the first two with financial and insurance titans who caused the problems the bills were supposed to solve. The third, the stimulus, was crafted to win over Republicans, which made it a much less effective package than it needed to be – and then they still overwhelmingly voted against it. We are living with the inadequacy of the stimulus every day, politically and economically, as stubborn unemployment and financial insecurity make this a tougher election cycle for Democrats. [my emphasis]
Glenn Greenwald, WH messaging about its base Salon 09/28/2010. He writes of the I-hate-you-now-vote-for-me approach (emphasis in original):

Obama supporters often claim that those who object to this White House messaging are reacting emotionally and personally because they're "offended" by these criticisms. Speaking only for myself, that has nothing to do with any of this. I'm not the slightest bit "offended" when Obama officials and their apparatchiks voice these accusations. They have the same right to condemn their critics as their critics have to condemn them, and it's hardly a surprise that Obama officials harbor these thoughts about the "left." Contempt for the left is one of the unifying beliefs of the Washington establishment, which is why most conventional establishment journalists -- Maureen Dowd, Ruth Marcus, Dana Milbank -- cheered Gibbs' outburst about the "Professional Left." None of that is new; none of it is a surprise; and none of it is "offensive."

What is notable about it is what it reveals substantively. The country is drowning in a severe and worsening unemployment crisis. People are losing their homes by the millions. Income inequality continues to explode while the last vestiges of middle class security continue to erode. The Obama civil liberties record has been nothing short of a disgrace, usually equaling and sometimes surpassing the worst of the Bush/Cheney abuses. We have to stand by and watch the Commander-in-Chief fire one gay service member after the next for their sexual orientation. The major bills touted by Obama supporters were the by-product of the very corporatist/lobbyist dominance which Obama the candidate repeatedly railed against. Rather than take responsibility for any of this, they instead dismiss criticisms and objections as petulant, childish, "irresponsible whining" -- signaling rather clearly that they think they're doing the right thing and that these criticisms are fundamentally unfair.
Glenn evens speculates that the administration may actually be pursuing this line to deflect criticism away from the White House over the all-but-inevitable Democratic losses in the Congressional elections this year. It's all the hippies' fault, you see.

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"It is the logic of our times
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That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

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