Sunday, October 2, 2011

RJ Eskow on the Mistakes Mr. Obama Has Made in Consulting Beltway Wisdom re: the "Center"

Richard (RJ) Eskow asks what progressives should do about Mr. Obama: 

There's no need to rehash all the mistakes of the last three years. The president and his advisors still cling to the mistaken idea that, as one of them told the Washington Post, "Fighting might make liberal groups feel good, but it isn't reasonable."

This "reasonableness" has led to Congressional gridlock, the appearance of weakness, and ongoing economic misery after inadequate steps were taken. The result is plunging approval numbers for the president, a disaffected base, and a surprisingly vulnerable re-election campaign. The White House has mistakenly assumed that we're still in the nineties, where you could win elections by rejecting the "Sistah Souljah left" and appealing to the "center."

That was two recessions, one financial crisis, two wars, and several million jobs ago. What the White House is hopefuly beginning to realize is that the 'left' is the new center. The president's proposed jobs act contains progressive ideas like closing corporate loopholes that are actually popular with a majority of Republicans. (So was the public option in healthcare.) And large majorities of Americans support his proposed millionaire's tax, another 'progressive' idea.

 Eskow's advice to progressives: be strategic.  Recognize that the goals we pursue don't rise and fall with one particular political leader or one particular party.  Make strategic choices that don't entangle the progressive movement in the aspirations of a given candidate or party--because political leaders and political parties will betray their base, when it's convenient for them to do so.

And Corey Robin, author of the recently published The Reactionary Mind, reminds us in an interview with Thomas Rogers at Salon precisely how it happens that we have ended up in the situation Eskow describes above, in which the Democratic party is perceived as weak:

But right now, the Tea Party is not constrained. You have an extraordinarily weak Democratic Party. This is a president and a party who were handed an opportunity that has not been seen in generations. And yet the Republican Party, a minority party that was absolutely repudiated at the polls, managed to turn this into a victory.

The quandary in which the Democrats find themselves as the 2012 elections approach is self-created.  It's self-inflicted.  In 2008, the nation handed the Democrats an historic mandate to make immediate, substantive changes to correct the course of our badly faltering country, after the Republicans' spectacular mismanagement of the economy, foreign affairs--you name it--in the Bush years.

And instead of acting immediately on that mandate, instead of acting from the strength represented by the mandate, the current administration chose to listen to self-defeating, outmoded beltway wisdom about "the center," and it dithered.  And compromised.  And temporized.  And kept the worst policies of the Bush administration in place.

The result is the current self-created weakness of the Democratic party vis-a-vis its opponents.  And the result is also disaffection ranging from apathy to anger among many of the president's most ardent supporters in the previous election.  While an enraged and energized far-right base in the other party threatens to determine the nation's direction for the foreseeable future.  And to return it to the stone ages culturally, economically, politically, and in any other sense imaginable . . . .

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