Saturday, April 16, 2011


Or, more precisely, acting like you CAN win.

I've not written about politics in a while; it's just too exhausting, especially when things change so quickly. The recently-concluded budget debate and subsequent score-keeping/coup-counting is a case in point. But it's precisely that recent discussion that reveals itself as another in a long pattern of events that I feel the need to say something about so that I can stop thinking about it and do some things I actually get paid to do.

Here's Dennis Kucinich, quoted in an article about Congressional progressive Democrats' discontent with President Obama:

“Congressional Democrats are going to have to reassert themselves[. . . .] Instead of waiting for direction from the White House, we’re going to have to give direction to the White House.”

Well, yes. But I would respond, though, by asking that on those issues progressives feel Obama has either not led or has settled for too little (we all have our lists; mine would include the closing of the prison at Guantánamo and the prosecution of terror suspects in civilian courts, immigration policy, and climate-change legislation), what sort of support have Democrats offered? It's easy (and convenient) to blame other factors for the perceived lack of success that the progressives' agenda has had, but I get the feeling that Obama is already persuaded on these and other issues. Some rare exceptions aside, I've heard few Democrats argue forcefully out of the courage of their convictions on behalf of these things.

It's Democrats who need the persuading that, as Obama has told them, "Good policy is good politics." As is clear, though, good policy isn't always immediately obvious, much less self-evident: it's far-sighted, long term--it's at variance with the 24-hour news cycle, considerably longer-term than, even, the six-year senatorial election cycle. Also, as is the case with the ACA (not to mention more-beloved programs like Social Security or--hey!--like our slowly-evolving legal codifying of who is a citizen), it's often incremental. And frustrating. But, you know, one takes what one can get.

Like anyone with real power reads good old Blog Meridian, but here's my humble suggestion for those folks: Democrats--especially progressives--should certainly be strong advocates for their positions and be upset if/when the President drops the ball, but they also need to remember that it takes two people to execute the hand-off. I'd also suggest that all Democrats take a good, close look at last week's budget negotiations and the revelation that, far from "winning," the Tea Party Republicans (who really shaped the Republicans' side of those negotiations) "lost" very badly, and they learned this in a very public (and embarrassing) way once the details of what actually got cut and didn't get cut came out. They're angry enough not to vote, in large numbers, for the very agreement that John Boehner had negotiated on their behalf. Any hope of passing significant legislation out of both chambers of Congress will require substantial Democratic input and approval: bipartisanship, in other words, but in the Democrats' favor. No one will get everything s/he wants in such a Congress. But neither side is in a position to play scorched-earth politics . . . assuming, of course, the goal here is to pass legislation that benefits the country.

In other words: for Democrats, the potential for the very dynamic that Obama campaigned on--true bipartisanship--now exists in Congress. Republicans will have to decide whether to continue engaging in purity-test, talk-radio politics that results in nothing substantive but does keep the base and Rush Limbaugh happy, or to propose legislation that is genuinely, traditionally conservative (read: not applied Ayn Rand) that Democrats have a hand in shaping as well but might attract independent voters to vote for Republicans. It seems to me that Democrats have more power in such a dynamic than they think they do--but only if, as Kucinich says, Democrats "give some direction to the White House" by, like, doing stuff and arguing on its behalf to their fellow Democrats. Obama, I strongly suspect, is already persuaded.

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