1.29.2010

Guest Blogger Shoq: Team Progressive: Shaky But Still Able To Win

Guest Blogger @Shoq wants us to redirect our criticisms of Obama at the real source of our ire, the conservatives who actually got us into this mess. While I agree with Shoq's basic premise (and James Carville's), it kind of hard to do that when Democrats have squandered the best majorities in Congress we had won for them in over two generations (originally posted on January 27th, 2010 at Shoq Value):



Shoq Value


Preface: I really prefer micro-blogging about short, concise, action-oriented bits of news and information. I am not a journalist, and have never considered myself much of a writer, so forgive me as I stumble through a screed that is far longer and more ambitious than what I first intended, or what I normally offer on this weird and often eclectic blog.

"That said…"

Politics hates a vacuum. If it isn't filled with hope, someone will fill it with fear. Naomi Klein

James Carville & Stan Greenberg's research/strategy firm @DemocracyCorps has finally joined twitter. Their second tweet was a strategy memo, released in advance of the State of the Union. I've never been a big Carville fan (huge understatement), and I have a lot of issues with his centrist-eye view on nearly everything. But this memo is spot-on when it comes to providing a quick-and-dirty analysis of a few things, and does an excellent job of taking the Teaparty-temperature of the nation was a whole.

While the TeaGOP populists may be gullible pawns, there are a shit load of them, and they have their very own blogosphere, financing, and 24 hour news channel. They also have the wind of a million corporations at their backs; commercial interests eager to shed even more regulation and taxes than they already have after decades of a subservient White House and Congress.

Meanwhile, the left blogosphere has become very practiced at snarking the right, and often seems damned competent (and amusing) doing it. But real-world politics and tactics are a lot harder than writing blog posts, and the insights of the political professionals in the field, however blemished they are in spots, should not be undervalued, nor cast aside in favor of the views of so many cynics who value very few opinions but their own.

Before I continue, take a moment to jump down the page and peek at item #5 in the central list from Carville's memo. Obama's new "Spending Freeze" would seem to fall within its scope. All we have heard in the past 48 hours, from the left and the right, is what a disaster this policy is, and almost no one is discussing the thesis that the White House knows that bond markets need reassurance that their concerns about the deficit and spending are being heeded. With the freeze, the logic goes, this was a way to do that without really cutting all that much, while leaving wiggle room for emergency spending when needed, while still giving Obama a kind of proxy line item veto for rightfully striking down some absurdly expensive pork. That would be a huge hat tip toward the all too critical independents we need to hang on to the feeble threads of power that we do have.

It may be a wrong strategy, and it may be right. But the knee jerk evisceration of the Freeze was typical of what has happened with nearly every proposed or enacted policy or strategy for months, and it's tearing the left, the administration, and the country apart. And it's also making the right downright giddy. It's a suicidal progressive acting-out (not a strategy), and it's just not helpful, prudent, or necessary.

And now consider that the spending freeze bullet point is but one of seven other prescriptions in Carville's memo. All are evidence of the fact that we have many hurdles to get over while trying to govern this wobbling and woeful nation. And anyone that thinks only their issue is the only important one should think long and hard about the complexities inherent in just implementing even this very short list of partial solutions. There's a myriad of confounding intricacies lying behind each and every one of them. We're not going to fix them if the administration has to stop every few hours to listen to the screaming demands from the green, pro-choice, anti-war, LGBT, education, labor, and other stakeholder constituencies, all demanding that the administration deliver for them as if there were no opposition from the people with all the money, media, and power. It's just not going to happen. Not without having a REAL super majority (rather than one populated by conservadems), and not without some kind of meaningful process reform in how we do things.

Something has to change, and in my view, it's the people on the left who must start that change ball rolling. They have the power to make Obama's rhetoric a reality, if they stop pretending they have a mandate, and start acting like an oppressed minority fighting for their very survival. Because that's exactly what we are. Democrats and liberals elected Obama to lead us through this thicket of insanity, largely created by Republicans over the past 30 years. He was never my first choice, and he's far from perfect, but our system rewards determination and political craft. He is where he is, and he got there when others failed, and we all helped him get this damned coaching gig. Yet, despite lots of post-election cheer leading and breast beating, the fact is, the coach got saddled with a team of Bad News Bears: a shaky, underfunded, under institutionalized, rag-tag bunch of progressive enthusiasts wearing scrappy uniforms and fielding second-hand equipment held together with duct tape and baling wire.

It's a team that only turns out to vote every 4 years, and almost only when something novel and unique gets them worked up into a highly motivated frenzy–as Obama did. But without that rare impetus, they mostly sit on their asses and grouse about how an increasingly right wing government and corporate sector treats them like customers at Wal-mart; like cattle that gets herded through miles of aisles of Chinese goods, for which their only response is expected to be a melodious "ka-ching" at the cash register.

We're victims of a mindless and ruinous brand of capitalism run amok, and expecting Obama to fix that problem with a wave of his hand is the epitome of historical ignorance and wishful thinking. And it completely misses the fact that's he's up against the Heritage Foundation, Cato, US Chamber, Citizen's United, Fox News, Koch Industries, Richard Scaife, AFP, and THOUSANDS of other conservative think tanks, industry associations, lobbyists, and fake citizen Astroturf front groups that are aggressively selling a simplistic, populist message to the masses, just so that they can use the zealous fraternity to help the concorporatives regain power and screw us all over again. It will just be deeper, longer, and harder than ever before. Remember, George Bush was never the brightest bulb in the room. We may not be so lucky next time.

It's time we wake up and admit that Barack Obama is just the coach of a rickety team fighting impossible odds, and we all have a pretty slim chance of surviving at all. Obama is the only one with any real power to help us win even a few modest scrimmages, if not a whole game. But if all the players on the left second guess every decision, policy, and nuance, relentlessly attacking every crack and crevice they can find in them, making it impossible for Obama to keep his people focused on their tasks without being diverted by every hysterical crisis the right wing throws up, and the left overreacts to, there will be very few people or ideas left on the playing field. And our opponents will fill that vacuum with their legions of willing bodies, armed with their contrived and jingoistic blather, imposing their bulk and screaming fan base to help spread it far and wide, thus running all over our national field, and us. It doesn't matter that they are screwing their own lives and those of their children. They are not the sharpest or best informed people (duh), and they will never, EVER get that part. It's pointless to waste energy trying to make them get it. We have to focus the fight on battles we can win.

If Liberals can admit that what lay ahead is hard, and only patient, strategic, and long term thinking will serve us, and avoid the temptation of taking casual and reckless potshots at this administration because it's an easy scapegoat for what has soiled Democrats for decades, we might start to move forward. We can work as a real team, chipping away at our problems with short, well-timed strikes that give us incremental results, gains the public's trust, silences the noisemakers on the right, and let's us move past all these real–and trumped up–crises of the moment, and get on with the business of building a brighter future for all of us.

I have never been a cheer leader, nor a sycophant, and I am loathe to march in lockstep with any man, woman, or ideology. So I am not suggesting we rubber stamp Obama administration policies. But I am suggesting we calm down and start playing smart, arguing them aggressively, but respectfully, and without this daily discrediting of our own coach–and by implication, our woeful team–making it all too easy for the right wing to convince most independents that we don't have the direction or discipline to earn a spot on the bench, let alone the playing field.

I am not a fortune teller, but I have spent many years watching the machinery of the right wing, and their steady, relentless march toward achieving near total influence over our industry, media, politics, educational system, laws, process and people. If we don't stop them in the next few years, the Citizen's United decision proves they will move to close-up any holes in an already minimal security blanket, and this fragile thing called the American experiment will just die.

You may not like Obama or many of these Democrats. Admittedly, there's not a whole lot to like right now. But we can scratch and claw our way past them, and these pugnacious Republicans if we keep our eye on the long-term prize. That prize is nothing more or less than saving this nation. But if you think this tired and mopey "I voted for change" refrain entitles you to win something, just because you feel your vote already won you something, then you are not going to be part of any solutions. But you will certainly be part of the problem.

Carville's Memo

Our analysis of these surveys suggests a number of things that Democrats can do to move America to a different place:

  1. Pass health care and explain it anew. While the route to passing health care is difficult, passage would signal a break of the gridlock in Washington. Health care reform has become a metaphor for ineffective government and gridlocked Washington politics, while passage provides an opportunity to explain its economic benefits.
  2. Get the spotlight off of Congress. Shift the focus away from Congress, the sausage-making of legislating and the polarization of Washington.
  3. Turn to jobs and focus relentlessly on bringing the economy and small business back. Long-term unemployment and its effects require a Democratic president and Congress who understand this public priority.
  4. Act on reforming Wall Street. Pass Wall Street reforms, including CEO bonuses and bank fees, to reclaim the cost of the bailout. The NPR poll shows Democrats much more in touch with the country here.
  5. Take visible action to cut spending and reduce the deficit.
  6. Get the economic narrative right. As the economy recovers painfully slowly, get the narrative right to move voters from their current protest vote to a place where voters don’t want to put the recovery at risk by voting Republicans into office who want to go back to the same policies that got us into this mess.
  7. Sharply define the Republicans and the real choice in the election.
Read the entire memo.
read more great pieces by Shoq...
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