Blame the all-powerful left!

Whatever problems the Democratic Party has, kowtowing to the left is not one of them

Topics: 2010 Elections, Washington, D.C.,

Blame the all-powerful left!

(updated below – Update II)

I have a contribution this morning to the New York Times examining the Scott Brown victory, and I’ll post the link to it once it’s up.  But for the moment, I want to address two equally moronic themes emerging over the last couple of days which seek to blame the omnipotent, dominant, super-human “Left” for the Democrats’ woes — one coming from right-wing Democrats and the other from hard-core Obama loyalists (those two categories are not mutually exclusive but, rather, often overlap).

Last night, Evan Bayh blamed the Democrats’ problems on “the furthest left elements,” which he claims dominates the Democratic Party — seriously.  And in one of the dumbest and most dishonest Op-Eds ever written, Lanny Davis echoes that claim in The Wall St. Journal:  ”Blame the Left for Massachusetts” (Davis attributes the unpopularity of health care reform to the “liberal” public option and mandate; he apparently doesn’t know that the health care bill has no public option [someone should tell him], that the public option was one of the most popular provisions in the various proposals, and the “mandate” is there to please the insurance industry, not “the Left,” which, in the absence of a public option, hates the mandate; Davis’ claim that “candidate Obama’s health-care proposal did not include a public option” is nothing short of an outright lie).



In what universe must someone be living to believe that the Democratic Party is controlled by “the Left,” let alone “the furthest left elements” of the Party?  As Ezra Klein says, the Left “ha[s] gotten exactly nothing they wanted in recent months.”  The Left wanted a single-payer system, then settled for a public option, then an opt-out public option, then Medicare expansion — only to get none of it, instead being handed a bill that forces every American to buy health insurance from the private insurance industry.  Nor was it “the Left” — but rather corporatist Democrats like Evan Bayh and Lanny Davis — who cheered for the hated Wall Street bailout; blocked drug re-importation; are stopping genuine reform of the financial industry; prevented a larger stimulus package to lower unemployment; refuse to allow programs to help Americans with foreclosures; supported escalation in Afghanistan (twice); and favor the same Bush/Cheney terrorism policies of indefinite detention, military commissions, and state secrets. 

The very idea that an administration run by Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel and staffed with centrists, Wall Street mavens, and former Bush officials — and a Congress beholden to Blue Dogs and Lieberdems — has been captive “to the Left” is so patently false that everyone should be too embarrassed to utter it.  For better or worse, the Democratic strategy has long been and still is to steer clear of their leftist base and instead govern as “pragmatists” and centrists — which means keeping the permanent Washington factions pleased.  That strategy may or not be politically shrewd, but it is just a fact that the dreaded ”Left” has gotten very little of what it wanted the entire year.  Is there anyone who actually believes that “The Left” is in control of anything, let alone the Democratic Party?  The fact that Lanny Davis — to prove the Left’s dominance — has to cite one provision that was jettisoned (the public option) and another which the Left hates (the mandate) reflects how false that claim is.  What are all of the Far Left policies the Democrats have been enacting and Obama has been advocating?  I’d honestly love to know.

And then there is the “Blame the Left” theme from Obama loyalists, who actually claim that the Democrats’ problems are due to the fact that the Left hasn’t been cheering loudly enough for the Leader.  I recall quite vividly how Bush followers spent years claiming  that the failings of the Iraq War were not the fault of George Bush — who had control of the entire war, the entire Congress, and the power to do everything he wanted — but, rather, it was all “the Left’s” fault for excessively criticizing the President, and thus weakening both him and the war effort.

To insist that the Democratic Party’s failures are not the fault of Barack Obama — who controls the entire party infrastructure, its agenda, the news cycle, and the health care plan — we now hear from Obama supporters a similar claim:  it’s all the Left’s fault for excessively criticizing the Leader.  A couple of days ago, Josh Marshall promoted — and Kevin Drum endorseda post that made this claim:

And we can look no further than Howard Dean, and MSNBC, and Arianna Huffington, and, yes, some columnists at the Times and bloggers here at TPM–you know, real progressives–who have lambasted Obama again and again since last March over arguable need-to-haves like the “public option,” as if nobody else was listening. They’ve been thinking: “Oh, if only we ran things, how much more subtle would the legislation be,” as if 41 senators add up to subtle. Meanwhile the undecideds are thinking: “Hell, if his own people think he’s a sell-out and jerk, why should we support this?”

The reason “the Left” criticized the Iraq War was because . . . they thought it was a bad thing and thus opposed it.  The reason some on the Left have been criticizing the health care plan and other Obama policies (the ones I listed above) is because . . . they think they’re bad things and thus oppose them.  For instance, health care opponents believe that forcing Americans to buy private insurance that they can’t afford and/or do not want is bad policy and will harm the Democrats politically.  That’s what rational citizens do:  they support proposals that they think are good and oppose the ones they think are bad. What are people on “the Left” supposed to do:  go on television and into their columns and lie by pretending they support things that they actually oppose, all in order to sustain high levels of affection and excitement for Barack Obama?  Someone who would do that is what we call a dishonest propagandist and party loyalist, and, in any event, is unlikely to have any credibility with anyone beyond already-converted, fellow Obama admirers.

A political party is actually much healthier and stronger when criticisms of the Leader are permitted.  Ask the Republicans circa 2005 and 2006 about how a party fares when party-loyalty and leader-loyalty trump all other considerations.  Moreover, if a political party adopts a strategy of ignoring its base, as the Democrats routinely do, it’s an inevitable cost that the base will become dispirited and unmotivated.  As Darcy Burner put it yesterday:  ”Perhaps if the Democratic base doesn’t show up to elect Coakley, party leadership should consider *trying to appeal* to the base.”  There’s a reason it’s called “the base” — it’s because it’s the foundation of the party — and, as the Republicans never forget, there is a serious cost to ignoring or spurning them.

As I note in my NYT contribution today, the reasons for the Democrats’ failings generally — and the Scott Brown victory specifically — are complex, and shouldn’t be simplified in order to declare vindication for pre-existing beliefs (Obama loyalists it was all about Coakley!; right-wing Democrats:  it’s all the Left’s fault!; Republicans: it’s a rejection of liberalism!).  But whatever else is true, the Left, as usual, has very little power, both within the Party and in general.  Blaming them for the Democrats’ failings is about as rational as the 2006 attempt to blame them for the collapsing Iraq War.  The Left is many things; “dominant within the Democratic Party and our political discourse” is not one of them.

* * * * *

All that said, and as horrible as the Democrats have been all year, the most amazing — and depressing — aspect of all of this is how Americans have so quickly forgotten how thoroughly the Republicans, during their eight-year reign, destroyed the country.  Whatever the source of our national woes are, re-empowering that faction cannot possibly be the answer to anything.

 

UPDATE:  The NYT forum on last night’s election is here; my contribution is currently at the top.

 

UPDATE II:  Noting that even reasonable conservatives like Stephen Bainbridge are saying things like: “Obama and the Congressional Democrats (especially in the House) governed for the last year as though the median voter is a Daily Kos fan,” Andrew Sullivan writes:

This must come as some surprise to most Daily Kos fans.  But if one had traveled to Mars and back this past year and read this statement, what would you assume had happened? I would assume that the banks had been nationalized, the stimulus was twice as large, that single-payer healthcare had been pushed through on narrow majority votes, that card-check had passed, that an immigration amnesty had been legislated, that prosecutions of Bush and Cheney for war crimes would be underway, that withdrawal from Afghanistan would be commencing, that no troops would be left in Iraq, that Larry Tribe was on the Supreme Court, that DADT and DOMA would be repealed, and so on.

Exactly.  Of course, none of those things has happened, precisely because the Democrats under Obama (and before) have been doing everything except “governing from the Left.”  But our political discourse, as usual, is so suffuse with blinding stupidity that this clichéd falsehood — Democrats have been beholden to the Left — will take root as Unchallengeable Truth and shape what happens next.  That’s already happening.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>