Round about late 2004 or early 2005, when things seemed bleakest, a friend of mine got an “Obama ’08” sticker. You might not remember, but those were, in fact, novelty stickers at the time. The idea that Obama might run in ’08 was a sort of earnest dream, a sort of sighing, “if only” kind of a dream.
And a liberal dream, if you’d care to remember. I am reading daily about how horrid liberals are to criticize Obama, and I want to laugh. When Andrew Sullivan launches into another screed against liberal critics, in defense of Barack Obama, I want to ask him if he’s really forgotten who laid so much of the groundwork for Obama’s election. Who was Barack Obama’s key constituency? Are people who are now talking about the responsibility of the moderates and centrists really going to pretend that Obama was the moderate presidential candidate in ’08? Can three years really explain that kind of poor memory? I will remind you that the mainstream media initially treated Obama as a joke, and one of their favorite axes to grind against him was that he was the favored constituency of the looney left. In those crucial early days, when people in power refused to take his candidacy seriously, it was the left that organized, the left that donated money, the left that went door to door, the left that wore t-shirts and buttons. It was the enthusiasm factor that made a huge difference, the enthusiasm of liberals. Hilary voters proclaimed endlessly that Obama was too liberal to elect, that the sensible response to the Bush presidency was to nominate the more moderate and experienced candidate. To now turn around and make Barack Obama out to be some centrist hero is a joke. It takes a special kind of ingratitude to blame people for criticizing your hero while ignoring the fact that they did such a huge amount of work to put him in office in the first place.
Politics ain’t beanbag. I don’t care about feelings, and while the ingratitude is galling, I suppose it’s irrelevant. What is relevant is the dynamic that keeps playing out the same way over and over again, and hurts the country. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this: when you attack the left, you empower the right. So many supporting Obama against left-wing critics– by attacking those left-wing critics, by the way, far more loudly and harshly than they attack the right wing– are trying to thread an absurdly thin needle. They want to attack leftists like myself in the service of attacking Republicans and supporting a president the American people permanently regard as very liberal. You think this country’s political system allows that kind of nuance? There is no such thing as objectively moderate. And even if there were, we have all the evidence in the world that the average American voter isn’t engaged enough to know what that is. The only way you get to be called a moderate in this system is to pass bipartisan legislation– and that is something that is not going to happen. Listen to Mitch McConnell–
“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought — correctly, I think — that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”
Give the man credit: it’s working. When you push Obama to be more of a centrist, you are doing exactly what Mitch McConnell wants. He knows that the American people think of Obama as very liberal, regardless of reality, and that there is nothing but political benefit in his side being as intractable as possible. I want to say to many of the commenters on this blog, when you push Obama to move to the right at the same time as the Tea Party pushes Republicans to the right, Mitch McConnell is playing you. I want to say to Andrew Sullivan, Mitch McConnell is playing you. He loves this “responsible centrist” shit. One person pushes towards the center, one towards the right, where does the object go? While you spend all your time congratulating yourself on how sensible and moderate you are, you are losing. Is it worth it?
Bill Maher gets it. He understands that our politics are distorted by one side that allows an extreme and one that doesn’t. This is not calculus. If you don’t care for my deductive explanation, just look around you. John Boehner– who you say you hate, who you say is ruining the country, who you think has to be stopped– he has just gotten, by his own estimation, 98% of what he wanted. 98% of the policy that you say is ruining the country. What is the value of being the responsible party if in doing so you are empowering the irresponsible party and hurting the country? Every time you attack liberal critics of the president, you strengthen John Boehner. But, hey, at least you aren’t shrill!
mistermix said earlier, “I’d say that this kind of West Wing drama is exactly what Joe Klein and all the other political connoisseurs want from a President. Lots of noble words accompanied by noble failure. In addition to being worldly, dirty and un-presidential, messy compromises just can’t be tied up in two hours, so they cut into lazy pundits’ TV and cocktail time.”
I don’t want flowery speeches. I don’t pretend that better speeches from Obama would fix things. But mistermix– those “messy compromises” that you associate with virtue is why our country is the way it is. Because every messy compromise is at least 80% for the wignuts, you end up with a corrupted country. How long do you keep playing that game until you realize it’s rigged? I told you how I think liberal politics can be restored. There have been liberal grassroots movements in this country before and there can be again. But it can never happen if the party leadership forever cuts liberals off at the knees. It cannot happen if we have a messaging machine that refuses to listen to the left wing. It can’t happen if blogs like this one associate our own ideas and our own values with shame rather than with pride.
Or you can keep doing what you’re doing and keep getting the results you say you hate. It’s up to you.