It's the Fault of the All-Powerful 'Left'

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).

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
corportist 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 endorsed -- a 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 throughly 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
cliched falsehood -- Democrats have been beholden to the Left
-- will take root as Unchallengeable Truth and shape what happens next.
That's already happening.