Red Red Meat (Or, Why Are Democrats Afraid of Getting Their Hands Bloody?)

by matttbastard

Following a long summer recess spent navigating heavily astro-turfed town halls and trying to bring yappy Blue Dogs to heel, President Obama finds himself  barely clinging to a piss-poor public option on health insurance (after preemptively tossing single-payer aside) and his once-formidible public approval rating.  More ominously, the GOP (and its once seemingly irrevelvant wingnut media proxies) has regained control of the malleable DC media narrative, with usefully idiotic outlets like Politico dutifully playing stenographer while chronicling the (as-yet-unfulfilled) Republican ascendancy. With what Michael Tomasky calls “a high-stakes address” on health care reform from Obama only hours away, one must reflect on why, after decisively winning what many at the time called a ‘transformative’ general election, the Democratic Party is now fighting for its political life.

Conventional beltway wisdom on how to survive as a mainstream political entity is as follows: Appeal to the centre, courting noble independents and so-called ‘moderates’; electoral success hinges on support from the unaligned mushy middle.

Sounds exactly like what the old white blowhards on Hardball are constantly yammering on about, right?

Well, don’t buy it.

In a TNR piece published in 2006, Thomas B. Edsall debunked the myth of the centrist swing voter as nonpartisan kingmaker, noting that most so-called independents are actually rather, well, partisan:

In late 2000, even as the result of the presidential election was still being contested in court, George W. Bush’s chief pollster Matt Dowd was writing a memo for Rove that would reach a surprising conclusion. Based on a detailed examination of poll data from the previous two decades, Dowd’s memo argued that the percentage of swing voters had shrunk to a tiny fraction of the electorate. Most self-described “independent” voters “are independent in name only,” Dowd told me in an interview describing his memo. “Seventy-five percent of independents vote straight ticket” for one party or the other. Once such independents are reclassified as Democrats or Republicans, a key trend emerges: Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of true swing voters fell from a very substantial 24 percent of the electorate to just 6 percent. In other words, the center was literally disappearing. Which meant that, instead of having every incentive to govern as “a uniter, not a divider,” Bush now had every reason to govern via polarization. This ran counter to Rove’s previous thinking. In 2000, he had dismissed the tactic of running on divisive issues like patriotism, crime, and welfare as “an old paradigm.” And Bush had followed his advice by explicitly reaching out to the center-left. For instance, during the campaign, he held a press conference with a dozen gay Republicans and sharply criticized the GOP Congress for a plan to save money by slowing distribution of tax credits for the working poor. But Dowd’s memo changed all that.

Republicans know that investing in polarization, not aisle-crossing bipartisan capitulation, pays dividends  — it’s why they haven’t been afraid to break out barely-muted racist dog whistles and fall back on appeals to naked fear of all-powerful government intervention (Death panels! FEMA camps! ACORN!) Rather than moving to the (constantly shifting) centre, which some talking heads have suggested is key to a return from the wilderness, the GOP has instead gone hard right, doing its goddamndest to engage/fire up its conservative base, especially those wayward souls who last year stopped publicly identifying as Republicans and, in some cases, voted for Obama or, more often than not, simply stayed home (and, most importantly, didn’t donate to the RNC). What the GOP is trying to do with their seemingly self-destructive obstruction uber alles strategy is simple: work the base into a free-spending fever pitch while simultaneously demoralizing Democrats and disengaging skeptical independents (an effort aided quite handily by ineffectual leadership in both Congress and the White House, both deeply in thrall with the oracular advice imparted by those self-appointed soothsayers of Byzantine Washington protocol, the DC punditocracy and press).

The GOP aren’t concerned if ill-defined centrists/independents are (purportedly) turned off by gauche appeals to right-wing base impulse. If centrists/indies are dispelled from participation in the political process (ie, by not voting for/donating to ANYONE) and the GOP’s white, red state evangelical base does show up (angry, inspired and with checkbooks in hand) the Republicans stand to gain in 2010 (and, hopefully, 2012). Republicans don’t give a rat’s ass if centrists/indies swing to the GOP or not, as long as they don’t vote for the Democrats.

Furthermore, by discarding the strong change mandate voters handed them last November, the current Democratic leadership has done absolutely nothing to give the general public–especially left-leaning Democratic partisans–a reason to renew their current lease on Congress (much less the White House).

I’ll give the GOP one thing: they know when to throw hunks of bloody red meat to the more voracious animals that reside under the increasingly constrained boundaries of the Republican “big tent.” By comparison, the treatment progressives receive from the Democratic Party (perfectly encapsulated by the ritual purge of one of the few actual progressives in the White House, “Green Czar” Van Jones) is largely based on thinly-veiled top-down contempt. Recent rumblings from certain progressive circles about sitting on their check-scrawling hands  and staying home in 2010 perfectly illustrate why you don’t brazenly and repeatedly spit in the faces of the ones who brought you to the goddamn dance in the first place.

When will the Democratic Party give its long-forsaken liberal partisans something to chew on (even if it risks staining its collective hands bright crimson)?

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Reality Check

by matttbastard

Despite the empty promise of a magical unity pony being giddily floated by the Very Serious Set (sample conventional wisdom: “[t]he big argument for centrist governance is that nothing significant can be achieved in Washington without bipartisan support, without members in both parties owning a stake”) politics, as they say, ain’t bean bag. Sooner or later it’s gonna once again get real ugly in Washington and, as Digby observes, nakedly partisan:

Considering that the Republican party really has been purged of moderates now, I’d say that the GOP is going to be the much bigger roadblock to compromise than the left. They’re more radical than ever. The Republican party is now led by Rush Limbaugh. There’s nobody else. And when Obama reaches out his hand to Rush Limbaugh he’s going to get it whacked off with a chainsaw, at which point, these villagers (who haven’t even considered this political problem) are going to blame Obama for being unable to govern in a bipartisan fashion.

All over television this morning the gasbags seemed convinced that Obama had been elected to stop the left from ruining the country. And when it turns out to actually be his supposedly cooperative new partners in governance — the right — that stands in his way, they will blame him for being too far left. It’s a trap.

Something tells me Digby has a Scrying pool somewhere on the grounds of her palatial estate, because the preceding sounds like an all-too-plausible dispatch from the near future. Look, change is not magic, nor is it going to bestowed upon us from on high by any individual, remarkable as he or she may be. It is going to take some hard goddamn work from the ground up and from all of us to move forward with a progressive agenda in the US, Canada and the rest of the world (or, at the very least, put a stop on the regressive course of the past 40 looooong years of movement conservative ascendancy.)

Party time’s over, kids; time to take a deep breath, roll up our sleeves and once again get down to the dirty business of making a better world. We’ve been given an opportunity. Let’s not squander it.

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Armchair Cabinet Appointment Advice FAIL

by matttbastard

Eddie Griffin’s bipartisan pick for Homeland Security secretary leaves a lot to be desired:

To begin the List of Appointments, Eddie Griffin recommends Retired General Collin Powell to the position of Secretary of Homeland Security, because he is a man into whose hands we can sleep well, feeling safe and sound, inside our homes, in America. Despite the bad rumor that sent us into the Iraq war, Powell hit Saddam Hussein with everything the U.S. was proudly made of. He led the battle charge and will readily do so again if the US is pushed to act.

Don’t mess with Uncle Sam under an Obama administration with Collin Powell, heading Homeland and the fight against terrorism, domestic and abroad.

Oooook–is Griffin endorsing Colin Powell, or GI Joe? Though admittedly not a fan of hers, matttbastard would much rather have Jane Harman get the nod as DHS chief over a man who dutifully exploited (and eagerly sacrificed) his then-highly-solvent moral capital to brazenly lie us into the still-ongoing quagmire (yes, Eddie, quagmire) that is Iraq.

powell-fail

Also, while I’m fully on board with efforts to make sure Larry Summers doesn’t receive the keys to the Treasury Department ever again, I find it hard to believe that Lucinda Marshall’s proposed alternative is offered in earnest (though this apparently and unfortunately seems to be the case):

Finally, in the last few days, efforts have begun to make lists of women who should be a part of the new administration. That it is necessary to make these lists is a testament to the fact that we’ve not come quite that far baby. But necessary it is and there are way too many very capable, qualified women to mention here, but when confronted by the misogyny of the notion that Larry Summers would be an appropriate choice for Secretary of the Treasury, it feels appropriate to offer the name of Naomi Klein, author of the Shock Doctrine who is one of the few people that seems to understand the dynamics of our economic crisis. While she is a Canadian citizen, there does not appear to be a Constitutional requirement that Cabinet members be U.S. citizens and she would be an excellent choice if the Obama administration is truly interested in transformational change.

Naomi Klein is a clear, concise writer, an experienced journalist–and, as Marshall noted, a fellow Canuck. Obama would be smart to study her coverage of the current economic crisis. However, I’m almost certain Klein would be the first to say that this does not in any way qualify her to run a cabinet office of the US Executive branch.

Seriously.

Look, I want Obama to field a diverse cabinet as much as the next progressive. And I often find myself in agreement with much of what Griffin and Marshall have to say (well, ok, Marshall a hell of a lot more than Griffin, who isn’t what I’d label ‘progressive’–YMMV.) But come on–pop culture ubiquity does not necessarily translate into cabinet-level expertise, regardless of race, gender or ideological preference.

On that note, what d’yall think about George Clinton for Secretary of Funk?

Now that’s what I call transformational change to make your booty rearrange.

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