Hillary’s establishment pragmatic idealisim vs. Bernie’s political revolution

Bernie Sanders in Phoenix, AZ, July, 2015, by Prose and Thorn. Hillary Clinton photo by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

Let’s call this fight over now, before we go any farther than we already have. Being a liberal progressive and being an establishment candidate or cause are not mutually exclusive.

There is little doubt that groups like Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign are on the front lines, fighting for progressive causes everyday. There’s little doubt that the Congressional Black Caucus PAC is committed to fighting the Right Wing for basic civil rights, voting rights and giving those in need a hand up.

But, inasmuch as they are all successful institutions, they rely on the Democratic establishment to preserve the gains they’ve already made and be ready for fights to come. Any disruption to the power of the establishment, they feel, risks it all.

So when an icon like Rep. John Lewis comes out and speaks on behalf of Hillary, as he did during the CBC PAC’s announcement, he’s not turning his back on liberals and progressives. I know him. It takes more than an intra-party skirmish to shake his idealism. It’s not in his nature.

In the Democratic race for President of the United States, Hillary is the pragmatists’ choice and Bernie is the idealists’ choice.

What John Lewis and Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards and others are doing is being politically pragmatic. Call it “pragmatic idealism,” if you will. They will not make what they perceive to be a risky move with an unknown quantity like Bernie, when they know Hillary, and they’re much more certain that she will win than they are of Sanders success in November.

They likely all believe in what Bernie Sanders is talking about – single payer healthcare, free college tuition, raising the minimum wage, expanding Social Security and fighting income inequality – but they are using their heads, not their hearts, because they feel they have to be pragmatic.

More than once I heard the term “politically naive,” in the early days of this election year, regarding Sen. Bernie Sanders and his motivated supporters. The first one came from a conservative friend on my Facebook feed, who was reacting to a post about Bernie’s viability and his principled stand.

In that context, he was saying that Sandernistas are mistaken because, he believes, all they want is free stuff, and they’re too naive to realize there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

The second was from a Hillary Clinton surrogate on TV, who said that it was politically naive to think a self described Socialist could win a general election.

In a January New York Times op-ed, economist Paul Krugman insisted that Bernie’s supporters “preferred happy dreams to hard thinking,” and warned about allowing “idealism [to] veer into destructive self-indulgence.”

But Bernie’s “political revolution” is born of idealism. The heart wants what the heart wants, and the heart wants Bernie Sanders. To call his millions of younger supporters politically naive is to ignore the energy required for social change and how it is shaped by the young.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was in his twenties and thirties when he took on the establishment, and there were plenty, including President Kennedy, who said he was asking for too much at once.

From the anti-war movements of the 1960s to Occupy Wall Street, those to whom the future belongs are the ones fighting to save it. There’s a reason the Baby Boomers’ anti-establishment battle cry was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” [See Jack Weinberg.] It’s because their elders were already part of a broken system that did not work for everybody.

Breaking news: it still doesn’t.

The revolution never ends. There can be no resolution to end the revolution without a concerted effort at evolution; we cannot revolve until we are resolved to evolve. That takes all of us – the pragmatist and the idealist, the prosaic and the poet – working together. And while we appreciate that sometimes it requires electing an older leader to get these things done, neither Bernie nor Hillary (nor President Obama, for that matter) can move the needle in any significant way unless they know we all have their back.

So don’t give up if the choice is Hillary. Act up. Don’t lay up if the choice is Bernie. Act up. With that much energy we can restart the revolution now and make it last forever.



When it comes to voting, it’s not all about that base

By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States (Voting Day (phone) // Day -056) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, via Wikimedia Commons

Senior citizens and college students, Wall Street bankers and the religious right, Southerners and African Americans, industrial magnates and union workers: if you’re in one of those groups, and a handful of others, chances are either Republicans or Democrats think they can already count on your vote on election day. They call those monoliths the base, the reliable support upon which the party can build their outreach during any given election. They count on their respective bases not just for their principled, philosophical allegiance, but also for their vote.

There is an often repeated meme in American politics, and that is the more people who show up at the polls, the greater the chances that Democrats will win. The past two elections – the 2014 midterms and the 2015 so-called “off year” elections, last Tuesday – bare that out, if only . In both cases, only about thirty percent of registered voters bothered to show up and cast a ballot. In both cases, the Republicans scored major victories at the state and national level.

Some blame the low turnout on voter apathy. That’s a chickenshit way to look at it, don’t you think? It’s like the Democrats are saying, “Hey it’s not our fault. It’s our lazy ass base.” But it’s not just apathy. Apathetics know there’s an election, but don’t care. This is a case of voter ignorance, where American citizens are blissfully unaware of both the fact there was an election and the stakes in that election.

“Democrats are looking for voters,” MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, said last week, during her intro as guest host on The Last Word, after the party of FDR, JFK and LBJ had a disastrous election day for the second straight year. Presumably, she was referring to the Dems frustration at getting out the vote for their slate of candidates, and when politicians talk about getting out the vote, these days, they’re almost always referring to the base. After all, it’s cheaper and easier to knock on the same doors every couple of years, where previously reliable voters live, than to launch an uncertain campaign for new voters.

But Wagner’s brief analysis speaks more truthfully the latter. “Democrats are looking for voters.”

It could be argued that President Obama won in 2008 primarily because his campaign motivated more voters. He didn’t really expand the base; he got people who don’t usually vote, in any election, excited to vote.

In a season where politics as usual seems to be anything but, it would be good if Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the party she directs figured out how to reach voters who will likely sit out this election, unless significant changes are made. As I mentioned in an earlier post, political psychologist, Dr. Drew Westen, says the two most important questions a voter asks about a given candidate, in descending order, are: “How do I feel about a candidate’s party and its principles?” and “How does this candidate make me feel?”

Issues questions are the last on thing on most voters minds. That’s why for all of Hillary Clinton’s political experience and gravitas, she fails where Bernie Sanders succeeds – getting voters excited and keeping them excited.

Columnist H. A. Goodman wrote, Monday, that only Bernie can get him to vote, next year. Citing polls that show “Sanders defeats Trump by a wider margin than Clinton in a general election,” and “the same people who say they’d vote for Clinton if the election were today are also the same people who state they don’t trust Clinton,” and noting that Hillary has “evolved towards Republican viewpoints on war, foreign policy, Wall Street, and other issues,” Goodman concludes, “I’m only voting for Bernie Sanders in 2016, and will not vote for Hillary Clinton or Trump.” He then goes on to list his reasons.

The point is, he’s not alone, and it goes right to Dr. Westen’s analysis of a successful candidate.

Frankly, I understand Goodman’s stance. As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I am enrolled by his passion and authenticity. But, I’m afraid if we abandon the vote because our guy isn’t part of it, we will end up with Nixon, at best, G.W. Bush, at worst.

You don’t want to vote? Tough. Vote anyway. Of course she’s not progressive enough, but dance with the one who has the best chance of at least aiming toward sharing your goals, if you can’t take a turn with the one that brought you. Bill Maher described it on his show, Real Time, a few weeks ago, this way. After polling his audience and finding out they were overwhelmingly for Sanders over Clinton, he asked, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, who will stay home and not vote for Hillary?” Nothing but coughs from the audience. “Exactly,” he responded, “it’s like the airlines. We have two good candidates. Sometimes, you don’t get the fish, you have the chicken.”


Will the power of impassioned politicians work down-ticket?

Curiouser and curiouser. It’s like Alice herself is guiding us through the United States of Wonderland’s early primary season going into the 2016 presidential elections. Showmanship and passionate authenticity seem to be ruling the day, while establishment electoral politics sits bemused on a mushroom. Just how long can this go on?

With the angry Republican up by double digits and the fiery Democrat surging in the early primary states, it might be time to stop asking when the campaigns of Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders are going to collapse and start figuring out a way to put the magic in a bottle labeled “Drink Me” for the down-ticket House and Senate races in 2016.Alice_drink_me-bottle

But will it work? Beth Cope, a Democratic political consultant who has worked on several campaigns, doesn’t think so. Referring to a popular 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a dangerously honest presidential candidate, she said, “I don’t think the ‘Bulworth Principle’ applies down-ticket. Down ballot voters are hardcore voters who aren’t turned on by theatrics.”

Still, Republicans have been rather good at theatrics the last three or four election cycles, especially in the House. They have been providing the most entertainingly twisted, Mad Hatter’s tea party kind of candidates to take on politics in a couple of generations. Where Reagan may have been extreme in his time, they are unapologetically extremer. Where Goldwater gave no quarter, they give not even a penny.

The Washington Post published an article over Labor Day about Republican contrarian, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), calling him the “Trump of the House.”

Like the presidential candidate, Meadows questions the leadership of the Republican Party. One may remember that he launched a campaign, before the summer recess, to unseat Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) as Speaker of the House, a move some at the time described as “unhelpful.” Boehner himself dismissed the move as coming from “a member here and a member there who are off the reservation.”

But that boldness that has been coming for some time, according to Cope, and one needs to look no farther than The Donald as an exemplar of why Republicans thinks it’s okay to go “off the reservation.”

“Donald Trump isn’t doing anything that Fox News wouldn’t ordinarily do,” she said. “When [Republican National Committee Chairman] Reince Priebus and Fox News and all of these folks say, ‘Oh, they’re damaging the Republican brand,’ every time they did not stand up against [the litany of misogynistic and degrading] things said on Fox News or elsewhere, every time the leadership said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to offend our base. We’re not going to weigh in,’ they gave up a little piece of their party.

“If Donald Trump is the type of person who is unacceptable to them, it’s their own fault.”

Yet WaPo points out that Trump’s bravado has bolstered the spirits of those who disagree with the establishment GOP brand:

“Trump’s anti-establishment message, gleefully mocking not only Democrats but also a hapless Republican establishment, has emboldened congressional conservatives ahead of their return to Washington Tuesday.”

What people like Meadows and his allies like Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Rep. Jody Hice (R-Georgia), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Arizona) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) brought to their respective campaigns was a way to draw out those who sought validation and acceptance for their poignantly out of the mainstream, wackadoodle, arch-conservative views.

As we have heard many times in the “Summer of Trump,” these views touch a nerve. It is, for them, a righteous anger they show toward immigrants and the milquetoast establishment. Republican base voters don’t see it as being a negative. They see it as it’s-about-time-someone-took-these-pussies-on kind of anger, and as psychologist Drew Westen points out in his book, The Political Brain, the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation:

“…subjectively, anger can feel either pleasant or unpleasant, as anyone knows who has fantasized about revenge…And although anger can lead to avoidance or withdrawal, it can just as easily be an approach-oriented emotion, causing people to approach someone or something they intend to attack.” (p.79)

And what is Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” except a call for revenge against those who “destroyed” it in the first place? At the national level, the personalities at Fox News have been beating this drum loudly for decades. Assisting in fomenting the anger of the “silent majority” at the local level have been the folks in the “vengeance is mine” business, the Evangelical churches that helped forward their message of exclusion and exceptionalism.

What both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been able to do with their campaigns, although with noticeably different messages, is be angry voices for change in their respective parties. To some extent, the same could be said for other party base drivers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts).

“If you’re trying to convince people to change course,” Westen points out, “you generally have to elicit emotions such as anxiety or anger, along with enthusiasm for your cause, particularly when your point is that an incumbent has behaved in ways that are incompetent or unethical.” (p. 318)

Remember, these campaigns are not just trying to replace an incumbent; they’re aiming to change the way Washington, D.C., and the parties that run our government, work.

But what good is anger, one might ask, if there is no policy plan to back it up, and offer solutions? Trump just talks about actions that will be “terrific” and “huge,” without a specific plan. Well, the fact is people vote based on what they feel about the candidates personality first, and policy is the last thing they care about. That’s why attack ads work. They give voters a reason to dislike a candidate.

Westen breaks it down to four questions a voter asks when considering who he or she will choose, what he calls “a hierarchy of influence.”

“‘How do I feel about a candidate’s party and its principles?’ ‘How does this candidate make me feel?’ ‘How do I feel about a candidate’s personal characteristics, particularly his or her integrity, leadership, and compassion?’ and ‘How do I feel about this candidate’s stands on issues that matter to me?'” (p.418)

“Candidates who focus their campaigns toward the top of the hierarchy and work their way down generally win,” Westen concludes, adding, “Candidates who start at the bottom of the hierarchy and work their way up generally lose.”

Democrats seem to think that middle America is constantly voting against its own interests, that if people had a better understanding of how their policies are better that the Republicans, then they would be compelled to vote Democrat. But it doesn’t work that way. Every time a Democrat goes back to explain policy to voters, he loses them.

In some ways, it seems like Sen. Sanders is campaigning starting at the second or even the third level of Westen’s hierarchy. He is running as someone outside the mainstream, and he is in the Senate as an independent. People like Bernie because they admire his consistency. “This is a man who is authentic,” one Sanders supporter said at a July rally in Phoenix, “he’s held his convictions for decades.”

Still, his speeches are usually a litany of populist policy changes, something Westen warns against.

He advises “abandoning traditional Democratic laundry lists…and instead telling and retelling compelling narratives of what progressives stand for and what they won’t stand for.” It could be argued that Sanders is doing that, but will his passion, exciting as it is for the crowd, ignite a sustainable movement?

“Trump’s supporters are angrier than he is,” Politico’s Ben Schreckinger wrote in a brilliant piece comparing the two surprise contenders, last month. But, he points out, “Sanders is angrier than his supporters. When the Vermont senator, hoarse of voice, bellowed out for a ‘political revolution,’ the [Reno, Nevada,] crowd cheered. But minutes before they had milled about amiably on the lawn. A game of Frisbee seemed more likely to break out than a revolution.”

So it seems that for a while, at least, the often talked about enthusiasm gap has yet to make an appearance this cycle. As far as carrying the spectacle into down-ticket, House and Senate races, as a way to get people interested in checking the boxes below the presidential candidates, one can hope there’s enough in the Drink Me bottle to go around. It will make 2016 so much more fun.


Bottoms up – starting a conversation for change in the rural South

“I’ve always believed that change doesn’t come from the top down; it comes from the bottom up.”

-President Barack Obama, September, 2009

It’s been Obama’s mantra since the beginning of his administration, and even before, when he first ran for president in 2008. Search whitehouse.gov for “top down bottom up,” and you will be overwhelmed by the number hits. Change comes from the bottom up. Politics comes from the bottom up. Economic growth comes from the bottom up. Innovation comes from the bottom up.

It’s a little bit ironic, then, that when the red states in the Old South take a bottom-up approach that appears to gain some traction in getting us out of the socio-political wilderness, the national party – seeing the potential for dollars and power – sweeps in to scoop us up, as if to say, “Thanks for all you’ve done. We’re professionals. We’ll take it from here.”

Jeana Brown, Dawn Collins, Haley Shank, Sharon Hill
Participants deliver their message at a conference for Team Rural in Brunswick, Georgia, March 21, 2015. Clockwise from top left: Jeana Brown, Dawn Collins, Haley Shank, Sharon Hill

That is exactly what happened in the 2014 midterms, according to a small group of rural progressives gathered in the coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia, Saturday, to lament about last year’s elections and the overall attitude state and national party officials have toward the folks who have a lot of passion about the direction of our communities but not enough money to be heard.

The sense of abandonment was palpable. “This shit’s got to stop,” railed an impassioned Jeana Brown, the Democratic activist from Georgia who organized the one-day event under her Team Rural banner. “We’re the ones [out here] doing this.”

“The messaging is pitiful with the Democratic Party,” complained Dawn Collins, a political consultant and former Democratic chair from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She described the passion of the party for the rural voter as milquetoast, at best. “They’re so afraid of upsetting the conservative base, so fearful that they won’t get [the votes of] a few conservatives,” she said, that they spent very few resources “preaching to the base and rallying up the base.”

The party’s message was “neither hot nor cold,” she said, quoting a verse in Revelations. Rather, she said it was “lukewarm,” as the passage goes, and so, she warned, we “will spew you out.”

It’s the kind of message that resonated with the mostly rural crowd. “What can we do,” a frustrated attendee asked, “to come back from this staggering stupidity?”

“We have to keep it real,” Haley Shank, a self-described Jewish Democrat from a small, southwest Georgia town, and a former candidate for the state legislature answered. “We cannot be holding on to [candidates who] are bringing down our hard work” just because of their lust for power. “Your candidates,” she advised, “if they’re not reaching out to you in between election seasons, then they’re not doing their job, and they’re not going to do it for you in [government].”

Collins agreed, and had a message for the state and national parties, and elected officials. “What we have to do different is operate in integrity,” she said. “Don’t sell your people out.”

Brown insisted that grassroots, rural movements can only succeed through action. “One of the first things we learned in the [2008] Obama campaign was strategy. If you get a roomful of people, get them to do an action.”

Getting involved and staying involved is “politics at its best,” agreed Sharon Hill, a political consultant from just outside Atlanta. She was advocating for growing the local Women’s Political Caucus. “We hold them accountable. That’s what we haven’t done.”

One way we can do that is to work together to fix things. “We have to reach across the aisle,” Shank said. “I think putting ourselves in that bright blue box can be kind of limiting at times, when a lot of our issues are not Democrat or Republican.

“Banning fracking in the United States is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Ending these pipelines and getting rid of eminent domain, this is not Democrat or Republican. In fact, Democrats will find that a lot of times, Libertarians line up with them on these things.”

The inaction and apathy isn’t just a problem for Democrats either, Shank told the group. It’s an issue for Republicans, too. After all, monied interest have also co-opted some of their grassroots groups. That puts the burden on all Americans who work to improve the future of our country. “We’re all kind of failing,” she added, near the end of the day. “We’re all kind of failing to meet each other where we are.”

As Hill noted, “This is a ‘we’ thing. When we join together, we get it done.”


The Democrats’ mutual denial society

President Obama holds a press conference at the White House after the 2014 midterm  elections, Nov. 5, 2014 (whitehouse.gov)
President Obama holds a press conference at the White House after the 2014 midterm elections, Nov. 5, 2014 (whitehouse.gov)

“There is much that is going right in this country, and there is still time for Democrats to say so.”

New York Times Editorial Board, October 21, 2014

If President Obama would not have delayed acting on immigration until after the election, he may have saved the seats Democrats lost in the Senate, that he was trying to protect by not acting. That wasn’t his idea. It was the idea of the Democratic Senate candidates.

If the Democrats running statewide in North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky had not tried so hard to distance themselves from Obama, by not meeting with him, not having him campaign for them, touting his economic record and and his call for a raise in the minimum wage, the successes of Obamacare and the efforts at fair pay and immigration reform, they might have won.

They disavowed the leader of their party by refusing to say if they voted for him, by stammering through questions about his policies and even by omitting their party affiliation from their campaign ads. They could not run away fast enough.

When the president said at an economic speech at Northwestern University in early October, “But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot — every single one of them,” Democrats groaned.

Then he told Rev. Al Sharpton, at the end of the same month:

“The bottom line is though, these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress; they are on the right side of minimum wage; they are on the right side of fair pay; they are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure; they’re on the right side of early childhood education.”

And in an effort to get the Democratic base fired up in Georgia, he called an Atlanta radio station two days later and gave the Republicans this little morsel for an attack ad:

“If Michelle Nunn wins, that means that Democrats keep control of the Senate. And that means that we can keep on doing some good work.”

The problem with all of these assertions that the president made isn’t that they weren’t true. They were. The problem for the Democrats in states the president recognized he lost in 2012, was that they became blatheringly and disingenuously defensive. Rather than assert, “Yes, I support these policies. They are good for the middle class and for the American people,” they sought to distinguish themselves from President Obama with ineffective TV ads.

“I’ve always believed that it’s not an effective strategy to run against a president of your own party, unless you’ve been actively opposed to that president,” Obama political strategist David Axelrod told the Washington Post, a week before the election. “You’re going to get tagged with it anyway.”

They could have danced with the president. Instead, they left him by the punch bowl to talk about his agenda and accomplishments to anyone who would listen.

The New York Times editorial board urged the Obama deniers to change their ways. “By not standing firmly for their own policies,” they advised, “Democrats send a message to voters that the unending Republican criticism of the president is legitimate.”

In Georgia, in a rebuttal to charges that he was slow to help his fellow Democrats and was cozying up to Republicans to aid his future plans, Atlanta mayor and sometimes Obama surrogate Kasim Reed retorted, in a Tweet, “When the President landed to visit the CDC. I was there to greet him. That’s what a ‘true Democrat’ would do.”

And, he went on:

“I never saw any of them. When I was running for re-election, I proudly accepted President Obama’s endorsement and support… a ‘true Demcrat (sic)’ would not lead their party to failure and then get on Fox5 [local news] & blame ‘Obama, Obama, Obama…'”

“Wow,” he concluded.

There is no telling how Grimes, Pryor, Nunn or Hagan would have fared had they been more welcoming of the president. It’s all hindsight. The only thing for sure is that even good candidates with the best campaign volunteers in the country are unable to bring out the base better than he can. By definition, the base is the most committed to party principles. If you voice it, authentically, they will turn out for you. A “D” after your name doesn’t get you votes. Being what your party stands for does. Being “Republican Light” does not.

“Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.” – Samuel Johnson


Triage for a bleeding lame duck

“We conclude that the Recess Appointments Clause does not give the President the constitutional authority to make the appointments here at issue.” – Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority opinion in the unanimous finding of N.L.R.B. v Canning, issued 26 June, 2014

“The Constitution makes it clear that a president’s job is to faithfully execute the laws. In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws.” – Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio) announcing to the press his intention to get Congress to sue President Obama for not following his oath of office

There’s blood in the water fountain on the North Lawn of the White House. Phrases like “constitutional authority” and “not faithfully executed” cast a shadow of doubt in the minds of the undiscerning, over the integrity of the president they elected to office, twice. The question is whether the Supreme Court and House Speaker John Boehner are inflicting a thousand tiny cuts or whether it’s a self inflicted mortal wound cut by the knife of good intention.

Wikimedia Commons

How the administration responds to these slings and arrows of misfortune is important, not only for President Obama, but also for the Democrats who hope to succeed him. With his popularity numbers hovering around 40 percent, and a public perception of disregard for the rules of power, the meme that asks “Do you want another four years of the kind of governing we saw under Obama,” is going to make any Democratic candidate’s push to the 2016 election difficult, especially those who have no buffer from the actions of the administration, like Vice President Joe Biden and the favored, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

The irony is obvious, since Obama argued, in 2008, that electing a Republican was tantamount to endorsing another four years of the horrid policies of Bush and Cheney. “Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment,” he said of his opponent on the night he accepted his party’s nomination in Denver, “but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time?” And he continued to refer to the failed foreign and domestic policies of George W. Bush as “Bush-McCain” policies.

It really won’t matter if Boehner’s lawsuit will likely not be resolved until after Obama is out of office. It really won’t matter that Biden and Clinton aren’t Obama, and neither are Martin O’Malley, Brian Schweitzer or Andrew Cuomo. The Republicans will hold up a thin allegation of abuse of power and call it a telephone book, and hang it on the neck of whoever the Democrats nominate.

How the president publicly responds to not only Boehner’s partisan gimmickry, but more importantly, to the Supreme Court setbacks (which include wounds from two of his own appointees), is critical. He has a little more room to be defensive with Boehner – “What I’ve told Speaker Boehner directly is, ‘If you’re really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, why don’t you try getting something done through Congress?'” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Friday – but cannot be dismissive, or even appear to be dismissive, of either one. If he doesn’t find some way to appear contrite but not chastened, his legacy will not just be the end of two wars and a health care bill. It will be facing the challenge of an intransigent Congress and finding workarounds so distasteful that it sours the public on the leadership style of the entire party.


Compelled to compromise, Obama and Dems can’t win

When Barack Obama ran for president, in 2008, he spoke of ending the Bush era tax-cuts for the upper two percent of earners, of bringing an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, of allowing the most draconian aspects of the Patriot Act to end and of ending the cultural divide over decades-old social issues. Without ending those things, there can be no beginnings. Without letting the lights go out at sunset, there can be no new morning in America.

Now, what hasn’t happened is not entirely his fault. The Democrats who controlled the Congress the first two years of this administration took few risks, and even though they got “shellacked” in 2010, mostly because of the way they handled passing the Affordable Health Care Act, they rarely waded into the still waters of electoral entropy, for fear of causing the tiniest ripple in the electorate’s conscious that might cause them to lose their seats.

Sent to Washington, DC, in 2006, to create movement against the Republican tide, they stopped fighting. They didn’t raise taxes for fear of being called “tax-and-spend,” didn’t challenge defense spending for fear of being called dovish, didn’t challenge the oil companies enough for fear of being called tree-huggers. “Oh,” they said, “it’s just because we’re such an inclusive party. Our caucus often doesn’t speak with one voice. We don’t march in lockstep like the dogmatic Republicans.”

While that is partly true, one thing then Speaker, now Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Majority Leader Harry Reid were supposed to be good at is getting their caucuses to speak with one voice. Instead of riding the tide of democratic pluralism that got their respective delegations the endorsement of independent voters, they let themselves be swayed by the concerns of the members of each of their houses that they might not get re-elected.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)It’s like that Major League Baseball, All-Star Game a few years back. You know, the one that was a tie in extra innings, and both managers had used all their players, so they stood on the field, in front of the commissioner, and the three of them decided to call the game. The managers argued that they were concerned for the players from the various teams around the league who were in their care, that it was their responsibility to return them to their individual managers in good health. The game, you see, didn’t mean anything to them. It was an exhibition game, with nothing but bragging rights on the line.

The problem was, it meant a great deal to the fans who had paid their money for tickets, who had voted their favorite players on to the All Star rosters, whose devotion to their players and teams made it possible for these millionaire athletes to earn an incredible living.

That’s the way the Democratic control of Congress over the previous two sessions has been. Nothing to play for, except reelection, and the largesse from lobbyists that is part-and-parcel of being an elected representative. Obama, like the commissioner, compromised because the Democrats couldn’t play to win the game. They were only playing to keep their jobs. Someone has to tell them that is not what voters consider winning. Oh, wait. The voters did tell them that, last year.

Baseball solved the push-back of unhappy fans by giving the All Star Game some meaning, something to play for – home field advantage for the World Series team from the winning league.

If a progressive, Democratic agenda is to be realized in 2012, maybe we need to give them something to play for, besides dollars. We need to remind them, they play for us. We will vote for them, again, if: they make empower President Obama to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire; they allocate money for jobs; they don’t fuck with Medicare to the point where it costs more for seniors and is harder to get; they move forward with the troop draw-downs in Afghanistan; they allow Dodd-Frank to remain law and implement all its provision, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and they pass the DREAM Act and give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

But look, we know you can’t really get all that done. Still, if you at least show us you have the willingness to rise above our lowest expectations, that will be a huge start. Don’t tell us what you’ve already done. Show us what you’re actually accomplishing now.

It’s like this –  if you want us to keep sending you to the Big Show, if you want us to keep shopping at your store, then you have to sell what we want to buy. As Americans, that’s our home field advantage.