Thursday, August 18, 2011

Obama Administration Continues to Slam Its Base: Prognostications for 2012?

Meanwhile, since we're talking politics (well, since I'm talking them in what may well be a monologue this morning--but politics with connections to religious and moral ideas), here's the kind of thing that has appalled me about the Obama administration from the get-go: as Amanda Terkel notes at Huffington Post recently, at the beginning of August, Obama campaign director for New Mexico Ray Sandoval sent out an email blast attacking Paul Krugman and the "firebagger lefty blogosphere" for their criticism of Obama's debt-ceiling deal.

And here's why this now-persistent meme from the Obama administration angers me so profoundly: it's a cynical, calculated attempt to enhance the president's street cred with center-right independents at the expense of his base.  At the expense of the large number of American citizens who think that the fairest, most obvious solution to our economic crisis right now is to reinstitute taxes for the super-wealthy, to call on the wealthy elites who have prospered tremendously in recent years while paying fewer and fewer taxes to bear their fair share of the burden to sustain our democracy . . . . 

The cynical, calculating policy of triangulation that has dominated the thinking of this administration is a vestige of the Clinton administration, which similarly betrayed the Democratic base at every turn, and gleefully so, while playing to the mythical center-right independents who, according to beltway wisdom, determine the outcome of elections.  Several weeks ago, one of those beltway pundits, Chris Cillizza, posted a blog statement at the Washington Post summarizing what Obama might learn from Bill Clinton.  

The statement cites an unnamed "former senior Clinton administration official," who has this advice for President Obama as he faces the 2012 elections: 

Accomplish or at least appear to be trying to get things done, worry about the base only to the extent that you avoid a primary [and] put all your focus on independents.

Worry about the base only to the extent that you avoid a primary, but put all your focus on independents:  take the base for granted, in other words.  Play the base for fools.  Fire the base up with promises and rhetoric that mean absolutely nothing once you're elected.

And when your base calls you on the disparity between what you've said and what you've promised, and what you then choose to do, use the base as a foil in a cynical game with the center-right independents who mesmerize you as the most significant political group in the whole nation, the one on whose future the nation hangs.  Mock your base for its gullibility in believing you.

Demonstrate your strength, your manliness, by making the silly, gullible, weak base squirm as you play to the very folks who have placed our culture in crisis, and whose prescriptions for saving the culture are not endorsed by a base that is more insightful and prescient than you recognize.  Score political points--score points in the macho game of one-upsmanship that passes for real politics in this nation--at the expense of your base, since where else can they go? 

As Dan Savage notes in an interview with Kerry Lauerman at Salon two days ago, this is precisely the tack that the Obama administration took with the gay community once it got into office.  It tried this tack, that is, until gay citizens and those who stand in solidarity with them began to fight back, to shut down the GayTM and withhold donations to the Democratic party, and to shift their votes to the Republicans in the 2010 elections.

At that point, the administration stopped taking this part of its base for granted and began to cash in on some of its 2008 campaign promises.  But here's what's happened since then--and this affects all American citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, and the future of all of us: as David Bromwich notes at Common Dreams today, 

In these August days, Americans are rubbing their eyes, still wondering what has befallen us with the president’s “debt deal” -- a shifting of tectonic plates beneath the economy of a sort Dick Cheney might have dreamed of, but which Barack Obama and the House Republicans together brought to fruition. A redistribution of wealth and power more than three decades in the making has now been carved into the system and given the stamp of permanence.

Only a Democratic president, and only one associated in the public mind (however wrongly) with the fortunes of the poor, could have accomplished such a reversal with such sickening completeness.

And here's what may well be the response of a base too long taken for granted and mocked by an administration that sells out the base's hopes in this gross way: increasing numbers of voters who found Mr. Obama a promising option in 2008 may well sit out the 2012 elections, or vote for any candidate other than the incumbent president.  At which point, those center-right independents will have gotten the outcome they wanted all along, since their role in our political life has never been anything other than to keep progressive policies from being enacted, and to check the power of center-left administrations in any way they possibly can, exercising a minority veto that determines the future of the whole society . . . .

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