Thursday, December 09, 2010

Where Are Progressives Going to Go? I'll Tell You

In view of the largely symbolic vote of the House Democratic Caucus in opposition to the President's craven compromise, one beltway pundit carrying water for the President, asked smugly, "where are they [progressives] going to go?" I'll tell 'em. The Idiot Punditocracy tends to think in linear terms about politics, reflecting the narrow Washington milieu in which they ply their useless chatterbox noise. Regarding the extension of the Bush-Obama tax cuts for the rich and favorite sons (and daughter Paris Hilton):

Idiot Punditocracy Myth No. 1 — A Democratic primary challenge against a sitting president results in a split within the party and ultimate defeat of a President, wounded and weakened politically by a bitter challenge from the party's left flank. The template for this particular scenario is Ted Kennedy's challenge of  President Jimmy Carter in 1980. The problem with drawing generalizations from the 1980 contest between Kennedy and Carter is that it was, first and foremost, a bitter grudge match. The two men did not like each other and made no bones about it. The result was a knock-down, drag-out fight that indeed split the party and facilitated Ronald Reagan's election.

What the idiot pundits fail to cite is the other race of the 1980 campaign on the Republican side, because (a) they just don't know the history that well (likely), or (b) this particular model doesn't comport with their far more dramatic narrative involving party revolts, sound and fury on the Left, and various lines in the sand. The candidate was, by today's standards at least, a liberal Rockefeller Republican: Rep. John Anderson of Illinois. Anderson wanted to provide a center-left alternative to a GOP that he felt had strayed too far to the right. He waged a campaign of ideas and gained instant popularity when, unlike the other candidates, didn't evade the question of what was his biggest regret. Anderson said flat-out it was his vote for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, leading to the bloody and divisive Vietnam war without a formal declaration of war from Congress. (Ironically, we saw this scenario play itself out in 2008, like a ghost from the past, with Hillary trying to explain her vote on the Iraq invasion.)

Anderson had some success in the primaries, finishing second to George H.W. Bush in Massachusetts, and in Vermont to Ronald Reagan, losing both contests by fewer than 1,000 votes. After Carter defeated Kennedy, Anderson launched an independent third-party bid with support from prominent progressives, as an alternative to the two major party contenders. But his campaign fizzled once Kennedy endorsed Carter. Still, he finished with 7 percent of the vote and was a precursor of the campaign of ideas waged decades later by Ron Paul from his (solo) libertarian GOP perch.

Liberals, progressives, the netroots are highly organized, and it was this organization that delivered the election for President Obama. The notion of waging a symbolic "challenge" to the President that is at the same time substantive, a campaign of ideas in which progressives unite behind one candidate that could best articulate core principles and ideas, to carry the message, appeals to progressives. The primary process would be a means  of discussing progressive ideas and priorities, and ensuring that the President engage in the debate with specifics, not generalities, all the way to the convention. It would be like holding the President's feet to the fire at every step along the way while having a respecful debate, discussion, and conversation about the future course of the nation.

Idiot Punditocracy Myth No. 2 — The President's approval rating is 80 percent among Democrats, therefore liberal base disaffection with him is a small sampling of the "silent Democratic majority." What the idiot pundits fail to recognize is that progressives can have an argument with our President on core principles and still support him in the main, though perhaps with less enthusiasm. Three words: Supreme Court appointments. Do these idiots think we're going to ditch the President willy-nilly? No. Have they ever had a family argument? Yes. Has the final result been a permanent break? No. End of story.

Idiot Punditocracy Myth No. 3. — "Where will progressives go?" This is typical of the condescending attitude toward progressives that permeates the beltway elites, from the White House, that sets the tone, to the media noisemakers and chatterboxes. Essentially, this is the nuclear option. Unlikely, but possible. Probable even, depending on what New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg decides to do. He says he's not running. For now. But that could change at any moment. It will hinge, as they say, on political conditions on the ground. Today, those conditions are more favorable than before November 2.

A Mike Bloomberg independent bid for the presidency is not some pie-in-the-sky scenario. All the necessary ingredients are there: A twice-elected big BIG-city mayor with creds, gravitas, UNLIMITED FUNDS, and the best campaign team money can buy. Furthermore, he is articulating a "third way" in politics outside of the two major parties, intended to have broad appeal, emphasizing results, pragmatism, fiscally responsible and socially liberal, with a ready-made slogan derived from the phrase "political centrism." Nothing about Mr. Bloomberg's recent moves says "quixotic" or "book tour."

Mayor Bloomberg is in an exploratory phase, but it's a serious exploration. Most progressives would still prefer to cast a vote for President Obama's reelection. Yet very few would consider a vote for Mike Bloomberg one for which they'd have to hold their noses.

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