Archive for the ‘Democratic Party’ Category
Way back on June 4, just after we learned that the unemployment rate had gone back up to 9.1%, Carrie Budoff Brown and Glenn Thrush at Politico wrote a piece about how the President would have to adjust his re-election strategy to account for the dismal economy. One point they made was that Obama has tied at least one hand behind his back by ceding the austerity to the Republicans:
By ceding the argument to Republicans that the deficit is the problem, Obama helped steer the focus in Washington to cutting government spending, robbing the White House of its ability to argue for more stimulus measures. At the same time, the rise in fuel prices over the past six months has offset efforts late last year to boost consumer spending and job creation.
Responding to Politico, Digby wrote:
I don’t doubt that President Obama will be re-elected. The Republicans are offering no reasonable alternative and the Tea Party faction led by Paul Ryan is certifiably nuts. I’ll be shocked if they even come close. But that doesn’t absolve the administration of responsibility for coasting on the economy because Larry Summers assured them that everything would be fine by 2012. This economy has been going sideways for some time now and the no-drama Obama team should have awakened from their slumber and recognized it.
This week, Joan Walsh at Salon observes that Obama has lost his Bin Laden bump and his approval ratings have come back to Earth. Walsh is less sanguine about Obama’s chance for survival in 2012:
But I still see reason for Democrats to worry. Re-energizing the party’s progressive base is key to the president’s 2012 strategy, and some parts of the base are dissatisfied. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka outlined his plan to pay more attention to his union’s own political structure and spend less on the Democratic Party and specific candidates, and other unions are saying the same thing. Particularly on the issue of the economy, there’s a risk of core constituencies being demoralized, and demobilized. Since I’ve been critical of the president before, let me say here that I don’t believe there were many concrete measures he could have taken to accelerate the recovery and reduce unemployment, because Republicans in Congress dug their heels in to fight on day one, and conservative Democrats wouldn’t go along, either. My main concern has been Obama’s failure to use his presidency to tell voters a story about our changing economy, and even when he didn’t have the votes in Congress, to lay out what he thought was the right course.
The point is Obama has disappointed a large portion of his base. It still seems hard to picture any Republican defeating him, but if unemployment remains high, and if the President does not seem to care or seems unwilling to offer solutions or lead the debate against the Republicans, the so called enthusiasm gap of 2010 can be repeated in 2012.
Most (but certainly not all) of the Democrats I talk to are fed up with Obama’s leadership, but see no alternative but to support his re-election. A primary challenge to the President would not surprise me. I would expect him to survive, even if the challenge is a strong one.
At the same time, Congressional Republicans have convinced millions that they are unfit to govern. The House is up for grabs (as long as Washington Democrats don’t give too much away in budget negotiations), and the Dems might do well in the Senate elections as well. Obama might need Nancy Pelosi’s coat tails to survive as President.
In the first two posts in this series I discussed the state of the Democratic Party and the relationship between its establishment and its progressive wing. I have argued that progressives lack influence within the Democratic party and that progressives should organize to take control of it. I would also argue that this “hostile takeover” should occur at the congressional district and county levels – at the grass roots level in other words.
The details of how progressives would organize at the grass roots would no doubt vary based on a number of circumstances, like local culture, electoral laws that differ from state to state and specific local issues. I am not trying to write a how to manual of grass roots organizing, though I suspect such documents are available elsewhere, like here maybe. Even without the step-by-step details of how to organize the grass roots, I do know what I would like to see happen, both here in my part of Central Illinois, and nationally as well.
1. First of all, I think it is ital that progressives find each other. Labor, civil liberties and civil rights organizations, peace activists, environmental activists, LGBT activists, progressive writers, artists, musicians and bloggers are some of the people that need to be involved in such an effort. Someone, (an activist or group of activists with time and energy for organizing) needs to contact people fellow progressives and begin discussions about…
2. Determine and document the principles, issues and policies that progressives believe are critical.
3. Set goals and objectives. One goal might be to find candidates for local offices and work to elect them. Since I am proposing changing the direction of the national Democratic Party, that would include finding progressive congressional candidates and, yes, getting them elected. Another objective would logically be to elect progressives to local Democratic Party offices, like county chair or secretary, delegates to state and national conventions and many many more.
4. Create an organization structure and assign tasks.
5. Accomplish previously discussed goals and objectives.
6. Find and work with similar organizations across the state and around the country.
Just as others have written organizing manuals, there are people already involved in this kind of progressive, grass roots activity. In Part II I discussed the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which include over 60 Representatives like Jan Schakowsky and Raul Grijalva, and one Senator, Bernie Sanders (who is not even a Democrat). In the districts represented by the CPC members, it seems quite likely that the progressives have gotten organized already. In these districts there may be a chapter of Progressive Democrats of America. And what, you may well ask, is the PDA?
Progressive Democrats of America was founded in 2004 to transform the Democratic Party and our country. We seek to build a party and government controlled by citizens, not corporate elites-with policies that serve the broad public interest, not just private interests. As a grassroots PAC operating inside the Democratic Party, and outside in movements for peace and justice, PDA played a key role in the stunning electoral victories of November 2006 and 2008. Our inside/outside strategy is guided by the belief that a lasting majority will require a revitalized Democratic Party built on firm progressive principles.
For over two decades, the party declined as its leadership listened more to the voices of corporations than those of Americans. PDA strives to rebuild the Democratic Party from the bottom up-from every congressional district to statewide party structures to the corridors of power in Washington, where we work arm in arm with the Congressional Progressive Caucus. In just five years, PDA and its allies have shaken up the political status quo-on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Medicare for all, voter rights, accountability, and economic and environmental justice.
Here is a handy dandy chart showing how PDA is organized. Note: it looks to me like PDA chapters can be organized by congressional district, county, municipality or region. Perhaps post secondary students on some campus might be interested.
I am not prescribing PDA as the only way to organize grass roots progressives, but I am also not interested in reinventing the wheel. It might be wise to consider organizing with PDA.
There ya go. Another cosmic problem solved. If only writing about organizing made it happen without getting all sweaty. But sweat, if not blood and tears, are necessary to achieve something like this, and talk without action is pretty cheap.
Feedback very welcome.
In the last post I discussed how progressives form the backbone of the Democratic Party, providing as they do much of the volunteer labor, votes and money that produces victories for that party. In return, progressives get the dirty end of the policy stick, at the federal level at least. The situation at the state level is more nuanced.
This is not to say that there have been no progressive accomplishments since 1/20/09, but most of these have been undermined by Democratic party leaders from the White House on down. There is an Affordable Care Act in place, but it was watered down to suit medical providers, pharmaceuticals and insurance companies. The U.S. combat role in Iraq is ended but the U.S. is still wasting money and lives in Afghanistan and now has another undeclared war on its hands. The White House and Congress passed a stimulus package early in 2009 but it was so diluted to meet irrational Republican objections that unemployment was not dented and remains above 9%.
There is more like this, much more, which leads to the restlessness in the Democratic base described in yesterday’s post. What should progressives do with their frustration.
Labor has one response. Here are some recent remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka regarding labor’s support for Democratic candidates. Trumka warned Democrats that such support would need to be earned from now on:
In what was advertised as a major policy address, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Richard Trumka, denounced Republicans on Friday over their efforts to cut Medicare spending and curb collective bargaining while promising — in a warning to Democrats – that organized labor would show greater independence in politics.
Mr. Trumka, in a speech at the National Press Club, was unsparing in attacking Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, and other Republicans who he said were elected on a platform of creating jobs, but have instead gone to war against public-sector unions to strip them of their collective bargaining rights.
At the same time, he suggested, without naming names, that organized labor would withhold support from Democratic incumbents who had not fought hard enough against
Republican efforts to curb collective bargaining or cut social programs.
“Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate,” he said in a clear warning to Democrats who have not gone to bat for labor. “It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.
Mr. Trumka whose labor federation has traditionally been one of the most important pillars of the Democratic Party, urged — even warned — Democrats to do more to battle what he described as the Republican wrecking ball.
“It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside — the outcome is the same either way,” he said. “If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them.
This is where our focus will be — now, in 2012 and beyond.”
In other words, Democrats in both Congress and the White House – not to mention governors and state legislators around the country – have not been good coalition partners and can’t expect unconditional support from labor in the next election cycle.
In the last post I quoted from a Daily Kos Diary by Robert Cruikshank that deals with the state of the Democratic coalition. Perhaps without knowing it, Cruikshank in the same diary may have pointed the way forward for U.S. progressives. Elsewhere in the same diary he notes that:
To our north, the neoliberals and progressives do have their own parties. The Canadian election earlier this month gave Conservatives a majority, but it also gave a historic boost to the New Democratic Party, home of Canada’s progressives, while the Liberal Party, home of Canada’s neoliberals, lost half their seats. Those parties have an easier time holding together their coalitions, and that enabled the NDP to break through and become the party that is poised to take power at the next election once Canadians react against Stephen Harper’s extremist agenda.
Still, for a variety of structural, financial, and practical reasons most American progressives are not yet ready to go down the path of starting their own party. And that makes mastery of coalition politics even more important.
Of course, it took 75 years for the CCF/NDP to achieve its current status at the federal level, although it has formed governments in five of the ten provinces and the Yukon Territory. Yes, the NDP was able to gain as much is it has because it could draw distinctions between itself and the right wing parties. U.S. progressives who consider themselves Democrats have to deal with ideological enemies within their own coalition. And at this point in history, there are apparently too many obstacles to forming a viable third party (except maybe in Vermont).
Given the institutional roadblocks to replacing the Democratic Party with a more progressive organization, the solution is to form a kind of New Democratic Party within the old Democratic Party. There is in fact a
congressional caucus sort of moving in that direction.
There actually are people moving in this direction. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) describes itself as:
(O)ne United States Senator and seventy five members of the United States House of Representatives, and is the largest caucus within the House Democratic Caucus. Established in 1991, the CPC reflects the diversity and strength of the American people and seeks to give voice to the needs and aspirations of all Americans and to build a more just and humane society.
The one Senator is of course Bernie Sanders, who is not even a Democrat and who once was elected Mayor of Burlington Vermont as a Socialist. Co-chairs of the CPC (Canadian readers now shudder, as CPC are also the initials of the Conservative Party of Canada) are Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva. Other members include Representatives Tammy Baldwin, Elijah Cummings, Danny Davis, Peter de Fazio, Jan Schakowsky, Donna Edwards and 67 more. The Entire Democratic Caucus in the House includes 194 members, including newly elected Kathy Hochul of NY 26, so the Progressive Caucus is presently about a third of the total Democratic caucus. But do progressives constitute a majority of the Democratic Party’s base? I do not know and have no data to support this but I suspect that more than a third of Democratic voters would agree with the four, core principles of the CPC:
1. Fighting for economic justice and security for all;
2. Protecting and preserving our civil rights and civil liberties;
3. Promoting global peace and security; and
4. Advancing environmental protection and energy independence<>
These are pretty broad principles and subject to many interpretations. I mean, what democrat, progressive or otherwise could be against any of these four statements? Blue Dogs? “Moderates”? Steny Hoyer or Bill Clinton?
But the CPC shows whose side they’re on when they get specific. Consider the “People’s Budget”, put together by the CPC. If implemented, this proposed budget:
• Eliminates the deficits and creates a surplus by 2021 • Puts America back to work with a “Make it in America” jobs program
• Protects the social safety net
• Ends the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
• Is FAIR (Fixing America’s Inequality Responsibly)
The proposal would also:
• Provide primary budget balance by 2014.
• Create a budget surplus by 2021.
• Reduce public debt as a share of GDP to 64.1% by 2021, down 16.5 percentage points from a baseline fully adjusted for both the doc fix and the AMT patch.
• Reduce deficits by $5.6 trillion over 2012-21, relative to this adjusted baseline.
• Allow for outlays equal to 22.2% of GDP and revenue equal 22.3% of GDP by 2021.
This kind of budget thinking is clearly distinct from both the GOP/Paul Ryan budget and proposals coming from the White House. Paul Krugman puts it this way:
Consider the Ryan budget proposal, which all the Very Serious People assured us was courageous and important. That proposal begins by warning that “a major debt crisis is inevitable” unless we confront the deficit. It then calls, not for tax increases, but for tax cuts, with taxes on the wealthy falling to their lowest level since 1931.
And because of those large tax cuts, the only way the Ryan proposal can even claim to reduce the deficit is through savage cuts in spending, mainly falling on the poor and vulnerable. (A realistic assessment suggests that the proposal would actually increase the deficit.)
President Obama’s proposal is a lot better. At least it calls for raising taxes on high incomes back to Clinton-era levels. But it preserves the rest of the Bush tax cuts — cuts that were originally sold as a way to dispose of a large budget surplus. And, as a result, it still relies heavily on spending cuts, even as it falls short of actually balancing the budget.
So why isn’t someone offering a proposal reflecting the reality that the Bush tax cuts were a huge mistake, and suggesting that increased revenue play a major role in deficit reduction? Actually, someone is — and I’ll get to that in a moment. First, though, let’s talk about the current state of American taxes.
(T)he only major budget proposal out there offering a plausible path to balancing the budget is the one that includes significant tax increases: the “People’s Budget” from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which — unlike the Ryan plan, which was just right-wing orthodoxy with an added dose of magical thinking — is genuinely courageous because it calls for shared sacrifice.
But if the progressive proposal has all these virtues, why isn’t it getting anywhere near as much attention as the much less serious Ryan proposal? It’s true that it has no chance of becoming law anytime soon. But that’s equally true of the Ryan proposal.
The answer, I’m sorry to say, is the insincerity of many if not most self-proclaimed deficit hawks. To the extent that they care about the deficit at all, it takes second place to their desire to do precisely what the People’s Budget avoids doing, namely, tear up our current social contract, turning the clock back 80 years under the guise of necessity. They don’t want to be told that such a radical turn to the right is not, in fact, necessary.
The deficit hawks Krugman refers to include both Republicans and conservative Democrats. That is why progressives need to stage a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party.
Tomorrow, some thoughts about how to go about doing just that.
I recently had a good long conversation with a local elected official, who is also a former Peoria City Councilor and a Democrat. As we talked it became very clear that we shared several significant political opinions.
For one thing, we both disapprove of President Obama’s performance in office. My companion though, having been active for decades in Illinois Democratic Party politics, has not been as surprised or disappointed as I have been. It turns out that Barack Obama has been known for some time to be an overly cautious centrist noted for his habit of voting “present” in the state legislature when face with legislation of any measure of controversy.
For another thing, we are both critical of the way the Democratic Party treats its base and its progressive wing (in many places there is no distinction between the two). The Democratic Party is clearly run by its so called moderates, who are actually either conservative or neo-liberal. This particular form of rot starts at the top – see the previous paragraph.
Meanwhile, in the progressive blogosphere and other media, there is more evidence of frustration with the President and Congressional Democrats, and a search for a way out of the current stalemate. Cornel West has stimulated much discussion with his recent remarks critical of the President:
West explained that in his view, Obama has morphed into “a centrist leaning toward the right” who acts as “a puppet of big business” at home and promotes “liberal neo-conservatism” in lands abroad.
Amid it all, West said that Americans of all political stripes are in the throes of a “radical democratic awakening,” at least partially brought about by the lack of change brought by the so-called change candidate, Mr. Obama.
Leaving aside the controversy over the tone of West’s remarks, they have provoked discussion about the tension within the Democratic Party between its progressive and conservative/centrist wings. Daily Kos diarist Robert Cruikshank argues that Democrats need to be more united:
Members of the conservative coalition do not expect to get everything all at once. An anti-choice advocate would love to overturn Roe v. Wade tomorrow. But they don’t get angry when that doesn’t happen in a given year. Not because they are self-disciplined and patient, but because they get important victories year after year that move toward that goal. One year it could be a partial-birth abortion ban. The next year it could be defunding of Planned Parenthood. The year after that it could be a ban on any kind of federal funding of abortions, even indirect. (And in 2011, they’re getting some of these at the same time.)
More importantly, they know that even if their issue doesn’t get advanced in a given year, they also know that the other members of the coalition will not allow them to lose ground. If there’s no way to further restrain abortion rights (Dems control Congress, the voters repeal an insane law like South Dakota’s attempt to ban abortion), fine, the conservative coalition will at least fight to ensure that ground isn’t lost. They’ll unite to fight efforts to rescind a partial-birth abortion ban, or add new funding to Planned Parenthood. Those efforts to prevent losses are just as important to holding the coalition together as are the efforts to achieve policy gains.
Being in the conservative coalition means never having to lose a policy fight – or if you do lose, it won’t be because your allies abandoned you.
I’m sorry, but this sounds like a plea for mercy from the neo-liberals running the Democratic Party. Where is the incentive for the Democratic establishment to ]offer the solidarity Cruikshank would like to see?
In response, Digby (perhaps the wisest blogger in the U.S. left blogosphere) doesn’t completely disagree, but observes that:
Cruickshank is making an appeal to progressives to apply the GOP coalition rules to themselves and stick together, even if the centrists continue to play their games.. And that’s certainly necessary advice. Warring amongst ourselves is about as destructive as it gets. But there needs to be an understanding of how progressives are being manipulated in the Party — and a plan to thwart it — or there is going to be some kind of crack-up eventually. You simply can’t have a working coalition in which a very large faction is constantly used as political cannon fodder. If the anger doesn’t kill you the disillusionment will. The old bipartisan way is dead for now and Democrats had better adjust to dealing fairly and equitably within its own coalition or they’re going to find that they don’t have one.
The trouble with Cruikshank’s analysis is that it assumes that Obama and the right wing Democrats are open to displaying solidarity with the progressive wing of the party. The Blue Dogs and moderates have consistently shown contempt for Democrats to their left. If progressive Democrats want to influence the direction of their party they will have to acquire more power within that party. Gaining and using power is after all what politics is about.
As Kevin Drum has observed in Mother Jones:
American politicians don’t care much about voters with moderate incomes. Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels studied the voting behavior of US senators in the early ’90s and discovered that they respond far more to the desires of high-income groups than to anyone else. By itself, that’s not a surprise. He also found that Republicans don’t respond at all to the desires of voters with modest incomes. Maybe that’s not a surprise, either. But this should be: Bartels found that Democratic senators don’t respond to the desires of these voters, either. At all.
I could go on and on. Plenty has been written and said about the tension between the Democratic Party establishment and the progressive wing of the Democratic coalition. The problem has been described and analyzed in dozens – no hundreds – of blog posts, articles, discussions and debates. Progressives know they’re getting messed with, so what can they do about it?
I will try to address that question in my next post. Tomorrow, same time same channel.
Democrat Kathy Hochul won a special election over Republican Jane Corwin to represent New York’s 26th Congressional District last night. This was the first time a Democrat has won the district since the last ice age ended. Most observers attribute GOP failure in this election to the unpopularity of the Paul Ryan budget, which includes a provision to change Medicare from a single payer health insurance system to one where seniors would receive annual vouchers to pay part of the premiums for private health insurance.
Republicans spin defensively and blame the result on the Tea Party candidate, jack Davis split the GOP vote. But Davis got 8% of the vote Hochul pot 47% and Corwin 43%. Let’s be generous and give 6 of Davis’ points to Corwin. She’s up to 49% but so is Hochul. It’s still a disastrous result for the GOP.
The other excuse Republicans are offering is that Democrats “demagogued” over Medicare. Truthfully stating what a piece of legislation does apparently now counts as demagoguery.
Again, the consensus among pundits is that the Ryan budget and its changes to medicare gave the election to the Democrats, ut this did not happen in a vacuum. The political context the Republicans have helped create since the 2010 election also helps explain their current predicament.
Since their massive victories last November, Republicans at every level have demonstrated and inability to govern seriously. They have naked ly pushed a corporatist agenda in Washington and in every state capitol where they have power. As a result, governors like Scott in Florida, Walker in Wisconsin and Kasich in Ohio have earned low approval ratings and stiff opposition. Recently, a Democrat in Jacksonville Florida was elected Mayor for the first time since the end of the last ice age (again with the ice age reference?). A few weeks ago, voters in a deep red state assembly district in New Hampshire elected a Democrat in another special election.
House Republicans in Washington have joined the GOP circus as well. They were elected because voters were angry with the Democrats over the economy. Republicans also attacked Democrats for reforming Medicare, and many voters accepted the argument. Never mind how fair or logical any of this was. The voters expressed themselves, and they are always right.
Since taking power in the House the GOP has defunded Planned Parenthood, voted to repeal the affordable Care Act and passed the Ryan budget plan with its destruction of Medicare as we know it. No legislation to address unemployment has been considered or passed. The list of Republican silliness is much longer.
So yes, the GOP attack on Medicare played a big part in their loss in New York 26, but it may be that voters there were also sending Republicans about their entire approach to government.
Can they change their approach in time to retain control of the House next year? Will the Teabaggers let them?
Fortunately for the Republicans, the Democrats aren’t sure they want to win next year. How else to explain Steny Hoyer’s insistence today that Medicare is on the negotiating table?
The White House may also giver the republicans some comfort in the coming election cycle. President Obama’s job approval ratings went through the roof with the assassination of Bin Laden, but they are coming back down now. The economy is still bad, and unemployment is still uncomfortably high. If Obama and his party do not begin to show some interest in this issue, they could still lose the Presidency next year, though the GOP shows no sign of nominating a competitive candidate.
Paul Krugman has a column in today’s NY Times about how Washington is ignoring unemployment, the issue that is most important to U.S. voters:
Jobs do get mentioned now and then — and a few political figures, notably Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, are still trying to get some kind of action. But no jobs bills have been introduced in Congress, no job-creation plans have been advanced by the White House and all the policy focus seems to be on spending cuts.
Recent polling also shows that voters in the U.S. are adamant that Social Security benefits not be cut. Digby today wrote about Representative paul Ryan’s response to Harry Reid’s statement that there will be no cuts to Social Security as long as harry Reid has anything to say about it. Ryan is quoted thusly:
I’m boggled. That just boggles my mind…I would argue, even though, it’s not really a driver of our debt, it’s not a significant part of our debt problems, it would build great confidence, fixing Social Security on a bipartisan basis, because it would tell not only the credit markets that Americans are getting their act together, it would buy us more time and space with them, it would show that our government’s not broken.
Digby then notes how Ryan and the White House may be drifting toward common ground, a common position, on Social Security cuts:
Now it’s possible that the Democrats will successfully use this to discredit Ryan on this subject and inform the American people that even the most strident safety net destroyers know that SS is not a deficit issue. And maybe the public is jaundiced enough about the “markets” that they will see this for the silly reasoning it is. Let’s hope so.
But the audience Ryan was trying to reach with that statement has just a little bit more power than all the rest of us put together on this. His name is Barack Obama and he has long signaled that he really, really, really wants to make a deal (aka the Grand Bargain).
And Ryan just backed Tim Geithner in what’s been reported as the battle for Obama’s soul within the White House:
Geithner and his lieutenants argue that benefits reform will give the markets confidence that Obama and Congress have the will to address the problem of long-term national debt…
I suspect Geithner is just blathering nonsensical CW and that Ryan is just lying outright, but if you don’t care about the reasoning, this sure looks like bipartisan agreement to me. And everyone knows we’ve got a president who loves bipartisanship.
I think I detect a disturbing pattern here (and I am far from alone in doing so). A majority of American voters, and a super majority of Democrats, liberals progressives and other assorted malcontents, want their government to be proactive about creating jobs It’s their top priority. At the same time they are unalterably opposed to ny reduction in Social Security benefits. In response – or more accurately, in non-response – the Obama administration ignores unemployment and plays footsie with the Randian wing nuts who want to privatize Social Security.
Anthony Weiner and other House progressives are not satisfied with Obama’s leadership on these and other vital issues:
“We’ve spent a lot of time waiting for Godot when it comes to the Obama White House, and we kind of — to some degree — have to internalize the idea that, you know what? That’s probably not the way to go,” Weiner said. “We have to start initiating some of this.”
In regards to Obama’s approach to budget battles and the labor strife instigated by right wing Republicans and the budget , Dennis Kucinich has this to day:
The only regret I have is that the White House isn’t fighting back against this. It’s one thing to say, ‘Well, I stand behind the workers — how far behind, I don’t know.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘I stand with them and in front of them to protect their rights.’ And I’m waiting for that to happen.
Here’s the problem for the Democratic party: They nominated a Democrat in Senator Obama and elected a Republican President. Of course, not every action of President Obama has aided the conservative cause, but a lot of the big decisions he has made have done just that. The wars continue while millionaires and billionaires keep their tax cuts.
Can the Democratic party afford to renominate a small c conservative Republican enabler for President in 2012? Can they afford no to renominate a sitting President who still claims to be a Democrat? Scylla and Charybdis. A rock and a hard place.
The Republicans are split right now between a few moderates and a relatively pragmatic establishment on one hand and the certifiable right on the other. Will Barack Obama eventually precipitate a split in the Democratic party between aforementioned small c conservatives and a GOP enabling right wing versus a progressive, liberal wing?
Outside of the Canadian Embassy, I am sure there are few in Washington who either know or care that the Official Opposition party in the Canadian province of British Columbia has lost its leader. After all, was Octavian informed or did he care that a homeless woman in Palestine had given birth to an illegitimate son?
I mean, there’s a lot of stuff going on in D.C. and president Obama, our latter day Caesar, has his hands full at the moment and is likely not being kept informed about B.C. affairs. But there is a cautionary tale that the President would profit from if he were to hear it told. It is a tale that illustrates the limits of elected power and how easily it is lost or corroded.
It goes like this: In British Columbia, the two main provincial parties are the B.C. Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP). Despite their centrist sounding moniker, the Liberals are a center right party and way more right than center. The New Democrats are nominally a socialist or social democratic party with formal ties to Labour, but are in fact a center left coalition that includes everybody from Troskyists and other Marxists to environmentalists, LGBT activists, trade unionists, and centrists who would rather give their condos at Whistler to homeless people than vote for the NDP in a federal election. There are a lot of factions in both parties but the B.C. NDP is a much more complex and vulnerable coalition.
The current leader of the NDP, Carole James, is a former school board trustee and chair. She gained the leadership in 2001 soon after the NDP had been reduced to two MLAs out of 89 in the B.C. legislature. In the next election, the NDP came storming back with 34 seats to the Liberals 45. In the next election, the legislature was expanded to 85 seats but the NDP only won 35 and found itself in second place, again.
For several months now, the NDP has led the polls in B.C., at least partly because the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell introduced a new consumption tax. In B.C. as elsewhere, raising taxes in a recession can make a government unpopular.
Even though she has been in a position to become the next Premier of B.C., James faced increasing opposition within her party. There are a number of causes for this dissension but some within the party have argued that James is unelectable and a new leader is needed before the next scheduled election in 2013. A crisis arose when 13 members of the NDP caucus insisted on meeting with James and threatening to resign from caucus and form a new party if their conditions were not met. A meeting between James and the 13 dissidents was scheduled for last Sunday, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute. The next day, James resigned, setting in motion a leadership contest within the party.
What, you may well ask, does this have to do with President Barack Obama, Leader of the Free World? Just this; This episode demonstrates how a political leader can not last in power if he or she loses the support of the people who put her or him into their position of leadership. Perhaps a majority of B.C. NDP members were prepared to keep James in her position and hope for the best. But a significant part of that membership was not so prepared and on their behalf the 13 dissident MLAs forced her hand and ultimately her resignation. Whatever the merits of the intra-party discussion, James lost the support of too much of her own party to stay in her leadership position.
And have you heard how upset many Democrats are with Obama because of his capitulation to the Republicans over the Bush tax cuts? The disappointment among rank and file Democrats and fellow travelers is pretty wide spread. It is not unanimous, certainly. But suppose Democratic voters stay home in 2012 as they did in the mid terms last month. Governor Palin might win every state.
So Obama needs to regain the support of Democrats if he is to navigate through he next two years and ultimately be re-elected. But right now Obama is defying his own party and electoral base with his stubborn defense of the tax cut deal he struck with the GOP (without much input or assent from Congressional Dems). As of this moment, there is still uncertainty as to whether or not the Obama/GOP deal will be adopted by either the House or Senate. Many Democrats in both houses are trying to either defeat the compromise or make it better fro the non-wealthy Americans. This is clearly in opposition to the President with whom they should be cooperating but who seems to not want to work with them.
Going forward, whatever the outcome of the current legislative struggle, Obama can either listen to his Democratic and progressive base or persuade them that he really is fighting for what his base wants. If he does neither, he can expect a more than symbolic challenge for his re-nomination in 2012. The further he strays from his party’s priorities, the more dissent within his own party he will create. In the end he could share the fate of Carole James and other leaders who decide to ignore the advice and wishes of those who put them in power.
I may not always agree with Kos, but when he writes the following:
Every Republican in the House faces reelection in 2012. And while we don’t know what the maps will look like in most cases (we have redistricting next year), they’re not all going to be able to draw themselves safe districts. They clearly have no interest or ideas on how to deal with the top voter concerns. So they’re doubling down on the social issues, even if it means antagonizing key voter groups like Latinos. (Ask Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and the California twins how that worked out for them.)
They’ll spend the next two years ranting about things voters don’t care about. And come 2012, when things haven’t improved, it’ll be their turn to be on the receiving end of a voter backlash.
…All I can say is, “Yup.”
Of course, the new Republican Reps can always look for legislative compromises that will help the economy, but then they would face the same baying hoards of Teabaggers that put them in office with their well known “enthusiasm”.
The conventional wisdom is that the republicans in congress are less willing to compromise on legislation than are the Democrats. I see no reason or basis for challenging the conventional wisdom in this regard. By the way, it is not just Washington Dems who are flaccid in the face of determined opposition. On Friday, November 12, New York Times columnist Charles Belew cited a Pew Research poll that found that:
…About half of the respondents said that President Obama still should take the lead in solving the nation’s problems. Only 39 percent said the same about Bill Clinton in 1994 and only 29 percent said so about George W. Bush in 2006. This seems to be at odds with what Republican respondents want. By more than 2 to 1, Republicans think that their leaders should “stand up to Obama” as opposed to working with him, and most think that those leaders should stick to their positions as opposed to making compromises. (This is stunning. Compromise is how democracies function. Are they saying that they don’t want a functioning democracy?)
I think that is exactly what they are saying. For more than 70 years the GOP has been trying to undo the New Deal. The New Deal was a democratic (small d) response to a national existential crisis. In those long ago days the Democrats did what the people told them to do and the people demanded action. The action they got upset the corporatist ancient regime. From that time the Republicans’ prime directive has been to repeal as much of the New Deal as possible and to return power to the wealthy and the corporations. Reagan made the most progress toward that goal, but the project has continued for the last 30 years. The result has been stagnant or declining wags for the middle class and a dramatic transfer of wealth upward.
But what is the ultimate goal of the Republicans. How much wealth and power will be enough for their elite clients? What kind of society do they think and hope will result from the fulfillment of their agenda? Maybe Newt Gingrich has offered us a clue:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is urging conservatives to operate as though they’re in a 10-year plan to “replace the left.”
Gingrich, speaking in Dallas on Thursday, told a conservative crowd “to think in terms of January 2021,” according to CNN.
“Rejection doesn’t fix a center-left coalition,” the former Republican congressman from Georgia said. “We have to decide we’re going to replace the left.”
“If we truly want a wave of change that ends a majority system that has been around since 1932, the wave can’t be the Oval Office,” he said. “Not that the presidency isn’t important, and not that I may not come back here another day and talk to you about a different topic, but that that topic by itself is too narrow.”
“The only way the presidency matters is if there’s a wave of citizens,” he concluded.
How does a country replace its left (or right for that matter)? It sounds like Newtie would like to live in a country where the trains run on time (only Republicans don’t like trains). Gingriches fantasy sounds very much like a one party state, where power would be concentrated at the top of the food chain.
Here is a definition of fascism from wordiq:
• exalts nation and sometimes race above the individual,
• uses violence and modern techniques of propaganda and censorship to forcibly suppress political opposition,
• engages in severe economic and social regimentation.
• engages in corporatism (sometimes defined as the tendency in politics for legislators and administrations to be influenced or dominated by the interests of business enterprises (limited liability corporations).
Does this sound like your friendly neighborhood Republican? Sure sounds to me like an apt description of Sharon Angle and a few others.
Meanwhile the Democrats continue to bring (metaphorical) plastic spoons to (figurative) knife fights. To be fair, not all Democrats are spineless. But the Democratic party is not really a left party in any meaningful sense. In fact, Newtie’s goal has long been realized. The left was replaced within the Democratic Party sometime during the Clinton presidency. Progressives or liberals are tolerated and sometimes even given leadership positions (see Nancy Pelosi). But the real leaders of the Democrats always make sure that policy and debate remain within well marked center right boundaries.
Republicans of course don’t see it that way, and their eliminationist rhetoric and practices will continue until they are opposed, either by the Democrats or some other formation not yet born.
Never mind the predictions I made the night before Election Day. Some of them were right and some were not so accurate. Good thing I don’t make a living as a psychic.
The consensus prediction was that the Republicans would win way more than enough seats in the U.S. House to take charge, and they did. They also added six new Senators to their caucus and enjoyed a net gain of 7 or 8 governors (some of those races are still open). The GOP even won 55 out of 99 state legislature chambers and increased the number of stares where they control both houses.
The focus now becomes what happens next. Senior Republicans at all levels and in all jurisdictions are saying there is no room for compromise with Obama and the Democrats. The president today, however, told a White House press conference that he is ready and willing to sit down with Republicans and try to find common ground to solve the nation’s problems (I am paraphrasing).
Of course for two years, the Teapublicans have been yelling about out of control spending and federal budget deficits. It turns out to have been a shrewd tactic in that the GOPers won the House and made gains in the Senate. During the campaign the GOP said very little about what they would do about jobs and the economy, the number one issue on voters minds per exit polling conducted on Election Day. The Democrats during he campaign seemed to have not much to offer either except to say “We’ve done our best and we’re on the right track.” No comfort there for the jobless, the homeless and the soon to be foreclosed upon.
In fact, most economists will tell you that there is very little hope for the employment picture to brighten unless there is some stimulus from the federal government. But the Republicans are pretending that the voters care more about the deficit than unemployment. They have no stated plans to do anything about unemployment except maybe transfer even more wealth upward in the form of tax cuts for the wealthy.
Here’s Krugman reacting to Obama’s press conference today:
Nobody cares about this stuff — they care about results. Nobody really cares about earmarks; they’re just code for spending less (less on somebody else, of course, not me). Nobody cares about civility and bipartisanship, which in practice are code for Democrats giving in to Republican demands. Nobody cares about parliamentary maneuvers: we can argue about the role of health reform in the election, but I bet not one voter in 50 knows or cares that it was passed using reconciliation (as were the sacred Bush tax cuts we must, must retain).
If Obama had used fancy footwork and 2 AM sessions to pass a big public works program, and this program had brought unemployment down, Republicans would be screaming about the process — and Democrats would have comfortably held control of Congress. Remember the voter backlash against the way Medicare drug benefits were passed? Neither do I.
Oh, by the way — nobody cares about the deficit, either.
Anyone who pays attention to government and politics in the U.S. should know that Republicans are not interested in solving unemployment. Maybe that’s why Republican favorability is even lower than Democrats’, already measured in opinion surveys but confirmed in Election Day exit polling. How many of those informed voters voted Republican anyway? How many low information voters voted Republican to punish the Democrats for failing to lower unemployment?
At this point it looks as though the short term impact of the election results will be a stalemate in Washington, with the Republican Tea Bag coalition passing unacceptable spending cuts and other mischievous legislation, which the Senate will refuse to pass and the White House forced to veto whatever right wing crap does manage to slither through the process.
The Republican posture at the moment is aggressive and uncompromising. Too Democrats in Washington are ready as ever to apologize for having any principles, although it is important to note that the 99% of the Progressive Caucus was reelected while about half of the Blue Dogs were sent packing. The problem is that the president’s weak approach to both policy and messaging means that Republicans win arguments by yelling louder (usually but not always figuratively).
So in the short term, if everybody follows the script the Right and the corporate media have written, there will be no federal action to stimulate the economy. The Republicans keep saying they want to reduce spending but have cleverly avoided saying what they would cut to balance the budget. Any cuts that are made will depress the economy further and delay full recovery that much further.
This is not the policy result people wanted but that is what they voted for. They bought a pig in a poke and poked themselves in the eye doing it.
The other plank in the Republicans stripped down p[platform was a promise to repeal “Obama Care”. On this, they do have some backing in public opinion, but the corporate media rarely notes that some something like a third of those who oppose health care reform do so because they don’t think it goes far enough. There is still a lot of support for a public option or even single payer, but shush, don’t let the rubes know that.
At least part of the credit for the GOP victory goes to the big, secret bucks that bought all those negative ads. And the corporate media (not just Fox NOT News Channel) reinforces the memes that the Right needs to be reinforced. And the 24 hour information vacuum still deprives people of the knowledge they need to make basic political decisions, like who to vote for to get the policy results they want.
Maybe, after the Right has completely destroyed the middle class and made living conditions intolerable for almost everybody, maybe then the poor and the middle class will gang up on the rich. Maybe when state and federal governments stop functioning because the nation’s wealth was squandered in foreign wars, then maybe people will begin demand real democracy and equality.
In the meantime, I couldn’t put it any better than good ole Digby:
So, here we are. People keep asking me what this means for the progressive movement and I reply — nothing. Progressives are in this for the long haul. And anyone with any experience knows that the country is polarized between the right and the left, with a bunch of people in between who don’t know what to think. All we can do is keep trying out different ways to persuade them that their best bet is to go with the progressive philosophy and require our elected politicians to figure out how to turn that philosophy into governance. It’s a long term battle that has periods of intense confrontation and calm conciliation, but it never really ends.
As you go about your business today, feeling like hell, keep in mind that it was just two years ago that many of the same pundits and gasbags were assuring us all that the conservative movement was dead. We are doing a lot of lurching about right now because the country is under stress and our political system is dividing strongly along partisan lines. Get used to it. I suspect we’re going to be in for turbulent politics like this for some time. And if we play our cards right, and the Democrats don’t completely implode, it’s probable that at the end of the day we (or those who come behind us) will look back and see that human rights, economic justice and peace came out the winners more often than not.