Right Thinking From The Left Coast
Don't stay in bed, unless you can make money in bed. - George Burns

Sunday, November 07, 2010

We Weren’t Liberal Enough

That’s the theme that many defeated Leftists are flogging right now: that the reason they lost in 2010 was because they hadn’t delivered to the progressive base.  Here is a typical exchange between Greenwald and O’Donnell:

You can read Greenwald elaborating on his point here. He does have two semi-legitimate points to make: first, that the economy was the biggest factor here.  As I said earlier in the week, if the economy were good and the deficit smaller, the GOP would not have won.  The public neither likes nor trusts the GOP.

Of course, the reason the economy is sluggish and the deficit huge is because of Obama’s policies.  In the clip above, Greenwald says Obama should have given more mortgage relief to families.  Of course, that program was both unpopular and ineffective as a large percentage of adjusted mortgages simply wound up in default again.  And similar points could be made about healthcare (which has already raised premiums) and Dodd-Frank (which has paralyzed the financial sector).  The economy may have been in shambles when Obama took over; but his policies have not helped things.

Greenwald’s second point is that politics is more complex than whether people identify themselves as liberal or conservative.

Voters don’t run around basing their vote on this type of vapid sloganeering:  who is a liberal?  who is a conservative?  who wants big government and who wants small government?  It’s true that the word “liberal” has been poisoned and it’s thus hardly surprising that few people embrace it as their political identity.  But, as I documented during the segment and O’Donnell steadfastly ignored, large majorities support positions routinely identified as “liberal,” including the public option, greater restraints on Wall Street, preservation of Social Security and Medicare, etc.  They can say they are not “liberal” but their specific views on substance prove otherwise.

This is somewhat true.  Many of Obamacare’s policies have been circling in conservative circles for a while and many liberals supported Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.  But Greenwald uses this to argue that the Democrats lost because (a) the liberal base stayed home because they didn’t get the liberal mainstream ideas they wanted from Obama; (b) the middle of the country, who are secretly liberal but don’t know it, voted Republican because they wanted more from Obama too.  Apparently, they’re just confused.  Poor stupid masses.

There are huge problems with this argument, however:

First, if the liberal base could not turn out for Obama in this election, then the liberal base are a bunch of spoiled whiney children who deserve to lose every election in sight.  In the last two years, they have seen Obama move healthcare and finance as far Left as was practicable.  Our troops have been mostly pulled out of Iraq and a deadline has been set for withdrawing for Afghanistan.  Yeah, they didn’t get the public option.  But they took a major step toward their dream of socialized medicine.  If they’re sitting on their hands for the election, then they’re a little kids screaming, “But I want my socialized medicine Now!”.  To hell with ‘em.

(Greenwald is also upset because Obama has continued and, in some cases, extended Bush’s unconstitutional War on Terror policies.  While I share this frustration—which is genuine in his case—I don’t think the liberal base really gives a shit.  When I see as many protests against Obama as I did against Bush, then I’ll buy their devotion to civil liberties.  Not before.)

You see far less of this brattish behavior from the conservative base, the Tea Party not withstanding.  If the Bush Administration has given us a modicum of market-oriented healthcare reform, a pinch of fiscal discipline, a dash of federalization and some competence in running the wars, the Republicans would have never lost power.  Conservatives have accepted that we can’t get everything we want, not in one fell swoop.  We didn’t turn on the GOP because they were insufficiently conservative; we turned on them because they weren’t conservative at all.

I do worry that this more grown-up attitude is ending.  I worry that the conservative base, like the liberal one, will pull a hissy fit every time they don’t get everything they want.  For example, there are a few dim bulbs like Rush Limbaugh running around saying that the Reagan Revolution happened because Reagan “never compromised”.  This is categorical horseshit, as Reagan’s compromises on domestic spending, the deficit, taxes, abortion and nuclear arms prove.  The difference was that Reagan compromised in a conservative direction, moving the country as far Right as he could.  The Bush GOP compromised in the big government direction that many of them truly favored, their only objective being electoral victory.  We accepted Reagan’s compromises because they moved the ball forward.  Obama’s compromises have moved the ball forward for the Left.  If the liberals are not happy with that, they’re simply not being adults.

I’m hopeful that the conservatives won’t follow them into the playpen when the GOP is forced to—as all politicians are forced to—do the best they can under the circumstances.  But we’ll see.

Second, I don’t think Greenwald or the others would say that they won in 2006/2008 because the conservative base was disillusioned with the GOP and didn’t turn out or that the public secretly wanted more conservative ideas.  No, the story of the 2006/08 elections was that the nation had finally turned a corner—that liberalism had finally triumphed; that we’d finally realized how awful those nasty Republicans were and how wonderful those incredible Democrats were.  Apparently, the public’s memory is extremely short and we decided to really force the country more to the Left by ... putting the GOP back in power.

Third, as pointed out here, there is specific polling data indicating that the votes for Obama’s initiatives cost Democrats in competitive and conservative districts.

What does this model tell us about roll call votes on these four bills [healthcare, Dodd-Frank, stimulus, TARP]? Simple answer: they mattered. A lot. A Democratic incumbent in the average district represented by Democratic incumbents actually lost about 2/3 of a percentage point for every yes vote. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s for incumbents in districts that voted 63% for Obama.

For Democrats in the least Democratic districts (Chet Edwards of TX or Gene Taylor of MS), the model suggests a loss of about 4% for every yes vote. Does that mean poor Chet lost 16 points on roll call votes alone? No, because he wasn’t a big supporter of Obama’s agenda. But he did vote for both TARP and the stimulus. In fact, virtually every Democratic incumbent on the ballot yesterday supported at least one of these four bills. That support was costly.

The ideological purists of the Left are either saying (a) that the Democrats should run real liberals in those districts, which is delusional, or (b) that the Democrats should simply ignore those districts, which isn’t a way to build a majority.  They are the answer to the nitwit conservatives who think it’s better to have a completely blue New England with all liberal Democrats than a purplish one with moderate Republicans.  This country is governed toward the middle; it always has been.  The question is which way the leadership is taking us.  Reagan took us in a conservative direction; Bush took us nowhere; Obama took us in a liberal direction.  Where we go now has yet to be determined.  But it will not come down to the ideological purity of those elected in swing districts.  It will come down to leadership.

Finally, this is typical of the Left’s arrogance.  They really believe that the public loves liberal ideas, is totally into them.  If only they weren’t called liberal, everyone would be jumping on board.  It’s a marketing issues, not an ideological one.  The solution is simple: run liberals everywhere in the country but just explain to the public that their ideas aren’t really very liberal—they’re totally awesome!

This will not work; this has never worked.  Clinton tried such a rebranding in the 90’s and it failed.  The fact is that the American public does pay attention to more than just buzzwords.  You can call it the “public option” if you want.  But we know perfectly well what it means when the government “competes” with private enterprise.

The Democrats made their bed as liberal as they could; now they get to lie in it.  And if the words of Greenwald are any indication, they’ll be lying in for quite some time.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 11/07/10 at 11:41 AM in Elections   Election 2010  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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