Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What Next?

Make no mistake, the right wing message machine, in all its permutations, won a huge victory yesterday, and will capitalize on it further in a big way for the foreseeable future. Equally, the Dems instantaneous decision to "whoah there" on health care reform is like nothing more than a football team that has driven to the one yard line, has four downs to get the ball across the line, five minutes on the clock, and elects to punt the ball. In the Super Bowl. Pathetic.

So where do Dems go from here?

QOTD, John Cole: "
Maybe I am just an authoritarian at heart, and I know I am much more comfortable supporting a movement than I am attempting to lead one, but it just seems like the Democrats worst enemy right now is other Democrats."
The predicted reverberations are already being felt. Chris Matthews is already going on about deficits being the most important problem in the whole wide world and how his daughter is really worried about government spending and taxes.

And the Democrats are subsequently making it much more difficult to fix the economy by playing into this deficit propaganda themselves. I suppose the only good thing we can take from it is that they may have allayed the move to have congress do it and give it the force of law. But it's not good.
Drum: Life After Coakley

I'm not really in the mood for writing yet another tedious postmortem on Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts Senate race tonight, so I won't. But I'll say this: it sure looks as though Democrats plan to make the worst of it.

On a broader note, though, it underscores how resistant the American public is to change. Aside from tax cuts, George Bush spent eight years in the White House and really wasn't able to advance the conservative agenda in any major way at all. Now it looks like Obama and congressional Dems aren't going to have much luck advancing a progressive agenda in any major way either. We complain a lot, but when all's said and done, apparently the status quo is still pretty popular. That's good news for Wall Street bankers and health insurers, not so good for the rest of us.

Booman: Learning Lessons from Special Elections
One thing I find boring is the proclivity of people to do self-serving analysis. We joke about every thing that happens somehow being good news for Republicans because that is how our media tends to spin things. But we do the same thing all the time. If Martha Coakley loses, a bunch of progressives are going to blame the loss on insufficiently progressive policies. The moderates are going to blame overly progressive policies. The Republicans are going to blame Marxist/Leninist policies. You know what matters? What matters is how politicians react and vote. And, on that score, it doesn't matter who wins, because the fact that the election was even close is enough to spook the hell out of the moderate Democrats in red and purple districts and states and make them oppose progressive policies. Obama's agenda is going to take a hit even if Coakley wins.

A good question for progressives is why no one takes their claims seriously. If we argue that Obama hasn't really pursued progressive policies and that our politicians would be polling better if he had, no one listens and no one believes it. I actually don't believe it. Or, to be more accurate, I only believe it on a narrow scope of issues where he could have actually been successful in enacting more progressive policies. I don't think he or the Democratic Caucus would be in a better place if he had tried and failed to enact a bolder stimulus package or a more robust health care bill. Failure would not be rewarded. Only if he had actually succeeded in doing those things would there be a potential reward, and I don't see how he could have succeeded.

The Republicans have had successes with their delaying tactics. It's the Democrats who are being punished for inaction. Sometimes, your opponent just outplays you. I remember some very good New York Knicks teams that couldn't quite figure out how to beat Michael Jordan's Bulls. When Jordan drops 60 points on you, it doesn't matter how well you played. Of course, it's kind of obscene to compare Mitch McConnell to Michael Jordan or Harry Reid to Patrick Ewing. But sometimes, if your opponent is willing to use the rules to obstruct and delay, and you can't figure out how to get the ball back, you lose. Remember the old Dean Smith North Carolina four-corner offense they used to run to run out the clock before the advent of the shot-clock? It wasn't sportsmanlike, but it worked.

Things will be even worse at 59 votes. If the Dems want to learn anything from today's election (win or lose), they should learn how to make the Republicans pay for their tactics. If the rules need to be changed, then change them. But stop banging your head against a wall.

Ezra Klein: What Ted Kennedy would tell the Democrats

And here come's the firing squad. Anthony Weiner went on MSNBC to suggest that Democrats drop health care and pivot to jobs. Evan Bayh is blaming "the furthest left elements of the Democratic Party," who have gotten exactly nothing they wanted in recent months. Barney Frank is hoping that some Senate Republicans will revise the health-care bill to their liking, resulting in a bill that will be far less to the House's liking than the current Senate bill. And so on.

There will be more to say on all this tomorrow. For now, it's worth observing that a Democratic Party that would abandon their central initiative this quickly isn't a Democratic Party that deserves to hold power. If they don't believe in the importance of their policies, why should anyone who's skeptical change their mind? If they're not interested in actually passing their agenda, why should voters who agree with Democrats on the issues work to elect them? A commitment provisional on Ted Kennedy not dying and Martha Coakley not running a terrible campaign is not much of a commitment at all.

Speaking of Kennedy, he anticipated this reaction back in 1980. On the eve of his defeat to Jimmy Carter, and Carter's defeat to Ronald Reagan, he warned his supporters against letting electoral setbacks dampen their commitment to their cause. "If the Democrats run for cover, if we become pale carbon copies of the opposition, we will lose--and deserve to lose," he said. "The last thing this country needs is two Republican parties."

Pity he's not around to remind Democrats of that today.

Marshall: What's The Prez Made Of?

It's one of these annoying conceits that at key moments people write editorials and posts on 'what the president should say', 'what the president should do'. But with the recognition that it's an annoying tradition, let me take a stab at it. Not because there's any reason he should listen to me but because it's a convenient way to explain what I believe is a sensible way forward.

In the spirit of bipartisanship the president admires, let's go back to President Bush in 2006 and 2007. The Republicans and the president were hit with a staggering defeat in November 2006 in an election fought overwhelmingly on public dissatisfaction with the Iraq War. The president said that he'd heard the people's message and proceeded to dramatically expand the US troop commitment in Iraq.

What you think of the surge is a separate point. But the example is an instructive one. Especially because it's an example that President Obama could follow with a far better argument that he is listening to the message of the people than President Bush ever had with Iraq.

The central problem the president is laboring under is the fact that the economy remains in a shambles. And unemployment remains at a toxic 10%. Beyond that though the Democrats are suffering because they have shown voters an image of fecklessness and inability to deliver results at a moment of great public anxiety and suffering. Big changes provoke great anxiety, especially in such a divided society. But Democrats are not just having dealing with the ideological divisions in the country -- which is what the Tea Party movement is about. They're also losing a big swathe of the population that is losing faith that the Democrats can govern, that they can even deliver on the reforms and policies they say are necessary for the national good. As I wrote earlier, this is about meta-politics. If the Democrats, either from the left or the right, walk away from reform, they will get slaughtered in November. They'll get it from the people who want reform, from the people who never wanted reform and from sensible people all over who just think they can't get anything done.

What the Democrats -- and a lot of this is on the White House -- have done is get so deep into the inside game of legislative maneuvering, this and that 'gang' of senators and a lot of other nonsense that they've let themselves out of sync with the public mood and the people's needs.

The president needs to find way to say, we've heard you. We've gotten so focused on working the Washington channels to get this thing done and we need to be more focused on the public's mood and urgency. Well, we've heard you. We're going to stop playing around and get this thing done. And then we're going to work on getting Americans back to work. We know the urgency of the moment and we know you expect results.

I've written this quickly. I would not consider it a polished version of anything the president should say. But I think the gist is right. This is the biggest testing time the president has yet faced. It could be a key turning point in his presidency. Over the next forty-eight hours the president is going to come under withering pressure to walk away from reform. It'll come from the left and the right, and in various different flavors. It will come from shocking directions. The president is going to have to find a way to say, No. We're doing this. He'll need to stand down a lot of cowardly and foolish people in his own party. He'll have to stand down the vast and formless force of establishment punditry and just say, No. We're going to do this. And he's going to have to make the case to the public, not necessarily convince all those who have doubts about health care reform but make clear that he thinks this is the right direction for the country and because he thinks it's the right thing to do that he's going to make it happen.

Yglesias: Why Coakley Losing Won’t Matter That Much

Everything I’m hearing points toward a Coakley loss. If you want to simultaneously infuriate yourself, and also console yourself that this isn’t substantively that big a deal, read this:

Even before the votes are counted, Senator Evan Bayh is warning fellow Democrats that ignoring the lessons of the Massachusetts Senate race will “lead to even further catastrophe” for their party. [...] “It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message,” he said. “They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected.” [...] “ The only we are able to govern successfully in this country is by liberals and progressives making common cause with independents and moderates,” Bayh said. “Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Dem party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country — that’s not going to work too well.”

Infuriated yet?

Okay. Now just consider that the guy who said this is one of the 60 Democratic votes. Suppose Coakley surprises everyone and squeaks out a narrow victory. Does this sound to you like Evan Bayh will jump for joy and start talking about how eager he is to vote for a cap-and-trade bill or a comprehensive immigration reform? Not to me it doesn’t. And that’s not a new sentiment from him. And he’s far from the only one. Scott Brown joining the Senate will make it impossible to make big progress on the big issues facing the country. But a number of “centrist” Democrats have been making it clear for a while now that they don’t want to make big progress on the big issues facing the country. That’s too bad, and Brown winning will only make things worse. We’re much more likely looking at a situation where Brown’s victory becomes an excuse for people not to do things they didn’t want to do anyway than a situation where Brown’s victory is the actual reason those things can’t be done.

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John Cole: Slamming the Overton Window On Your Own Head

In another thread, someone asked:

Yeah, this blog is starting to rub me the wrong way a little with its knee-jerk anti-activist stink. Are you thinking of switching again, John?

No. Not at all. I’m not anti-activist, but I’m against doing self-defeating things, and what I see lately is a lot of magical thinking and self-defeating tactics at work. In fact, a couple months ago, when we were all working towards a worthwhile goal, I was linking to, quoting, and high-fiving the same activists I am now looking at like they are a freak show.

I understand a lot of what is going on predates my entrance into the Democratic party- progressives and gay right activists have a long history of being shat on by the DLC crowd, Clinton took them for a ride, and now they think Rahm an Obama are doing the same thing. Republicans didn’t pass DOMA, DADT, welfare reform, etc., after all. So I understand it to some extent. At the same time, let me tell you a story about what I see:

I’m walking down the street with my Obama/Biden button on, when up ahead of me on the right, I see a large protest. They are carrying signs, and yelling and ranting about Obama.

“Kill the bill! Obamacare sucks!”
“That’s not change you can believe in!”
“Obama’s Adopting Bush’s Terror policies! But He’s Still Weak on Terror!”
“No taxes on healthcare!”
“Just words.”

I pay no attention to them, then look to the left, and see a progressive counter-protest. They are all amped up, too, and they are yelling their own slogans:

“Kill the bill! No to Obama’s Insurance Sell Out!”
“That’s not the change I voted for!”
“Obama’s just like Bush on National Security/Gitmo!”
“No taxes on healthcare!”
“Just words!”

I recognize a lot of people in the crowd, so I walk up to them and ask them what the hell they are doing. They look back at me and tell me, “Oh. We’re just moving the Overton Window to the left.”

Now do you understand why I am wondering what the hell people are thinking? I don’t understand the logic of adopting the same frames as the right. I don’t understand the idea of killing HCR because there will be something better down the road. I don’t understand why everything has to be done immediately, the way the loudest want it done, or Obama is a sell out.

Maybe I am just an authoritarian at heart, and I know I am much more comfortable supporting a movement than I am attempting to lead one, but it just seems like the Democrats worst enemy right now is other Democrats.

In which Shultz deflects blame and refuses to accept responsibility. Great start.

Will Democrats learn lessons from loss? Jan. 19: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, vice chair of the DCCC, reflects on lessons for Democrats in the loss by Martha Coakley to Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special election.

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