Friday, September 23, 2011

Send In The Democratic Party Clowns, Jonathan Alter And Bob Schrum

I couldn't believe it. Coming from Jonathan Alter, a writer I admire (still), particularly as an FDR historian. He wrote a fine book about the greatest president of the 20th century: The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. I read it in one sitting. The title gives us a clue to Jonathan's next project, an account of President Obama's first year in office, Promise, perhaps suggesting that the president whose slogans were "hope" and "change" would be the one to pick up FDR's torch and complete the work of forging a more perfect union. The historical conditions were similar and called for sweeping solutions.

That was the hope. The reality turned out to be quite different. Some supporters like Alter and Bob Schrum, as we shall see, are still in stages of denial. As Jonathan was busily interviewing White House insiders for his sympathetic portrait of the inner workings of the administration's policy-making, basking in the glow of his unique access and the President's brilliance, he lost sight of what was happening outside the "bubble," just down the street even, and the gathering storm of Tea Party and corporate opposition to Obama's presidency, beyond the Beltway. Jonathan never did see the forest for the trees. He was in the enchanted forest and loving every minute of it. The positive New York Times review of Promise notes, "Alter never really discusses the larger ideological battles that have buffeted Washington. The Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin and Fox News have only walk-on parts. Instead, the spotlight shines firmly on the intricate maneuverings of the White House’s inner circle." Likewise, Alter devoted little more than a contemptuous, dismissive line or two to Progressive concerns.

This is at once the book's greatest virtue and its biggest flaw. It lacks the big picture context from which Progressives — mostly on the outside looking in — argued, pleaded with the President to draw his lines in the sand against Republican obstructionism while his political capital with the public was at an all-time high. Strike while the iron was hot. Every poll showed the public's strong support for the liberal prescriptions not taken in the face of minority Republican opposition — in the stimulus bill jobs, not tax cuts, and in health care a progressive, simplified bill, with the public option and without giveaways to pharmaceuticals and the insurance industry. That was the moment the President should have seized to take the fight to the insurance industry and the big corporations. His current fight for jobs and a millionaires tax may be too little too late, according to some critics in the Beltway Media. Not to most Progressives. Our position is better late than never.

Earlier this week, at one of the frequent pit stops of the Beltway Media, Andrea Mitchell Reports, Jonathan was asked by the affable host to the Washington elites to explain us, the "base" of the Democratic Party, in ways her millionaire friends could understand. Jonathan seized the opportunity to fire a mean-spirited cheap shot at Progressives which was, frankly, surprising given his rep as a political historian and careful journalist. Here is the text of that jaw-dropping exchange:
ANDREA MITCHELL: "Is the base happy?"

JONATHAN ALTER: "The base is pretty happy right now, and I think they’re starting to realize in part because people like Bob Schrum are telling them to stop being crybabies, as he calls it, that they need to act more like Republicans when they’re in power. You know when Ronald Reagan raised taxes, which the base hated, they didn’t go oh we don’t like Reagan anymore, they went, we’ve got power, we like power, we want to keep power, and we’re gonna rally around the President. Democrats traditionally don’t do that very well, so this gives them some ability to do it, and it also gives Obama some cover for some pretty deep cuts that are in this package that are getting no attention now because of this base bait that he’s offered with this millionaire tax cut." [emphasis mine]
It can't be a coincidence. This is the third instance, to my knowledge, on MSNBC (there are many more examples) of faux "liberals" — actually they should more accurately be described as the Beltway "establishment" — going off on Progressives. The first was Chris Matthews muttering contemptuously under his breath, "It must be those netroots people." Next, Lawrence erupted at Salon's Glenn Greenwald on Morning Joe over political labels like liberal v. progressive (he claims to be a "socialist"... that's like calling the Pope a former member of the Hitler Youth). And now, this cheap shot from Jonathan.

So what gives? What's with all the latent hostility toward Progressives from the Democratic establishment? I have a theory: It's simple, really. We're right and they're wrong. We were right then, when they cast their lot with the President's capitulations, and we're right today when the President finally came around to our position. They call it "populism" because, you know, these two percenters are political snobs. They look down their noses at unions and regular working class people. They speak of the "base" — at best, a catch-all misleading term — as if we're spoiled children or a monolith that votes in lockstep on every issue based on edicts handed down by Comrade Adam Greene.

In fact, the President is only reverting back to Democratic Party roots and the liberal ruling ideology of this country when we were at the pinnacle of our prosperity. He is us in the moment, and we are the keepers of FDR's legacy. Where the party establishment stands, well, that's more complicated. Let's break down Jonathan's hilarious and absurd statement. (Jonathan should have taken his own advice to avoid the “polemics of punditry.”)

Item: Bob Schrum, or BS for short, as I like to call him, darling of MSNBC political hosts. For those unfamiliar with BS's record as a Democratic political consultant, here's a rundown of his Greatest Hits, with the presidential candidates who hired BS's professional services. Consider BS's impressive list of winners:

Ed Muskie — the original "crybaby," touted as a shoo-in, lost his Democratic primary contest to challenger George McGovern; then rising star BS jumped to McGovern's campaign whereupon George suffered a landslide defeat to popular Tricky "Dick" Nixon ... It was rumored BS was on McGovern's B-list for Veep;  next, Jimmy Carter, incumbent president, was sufficiently softened by BS's prescient advice to become Reagan bait in 1980; that year BS joined Ted Kennedy's primary challenge of a sitting president, effectively killing two birds with one stone, knocking off two strong Democrats, paving the way for Reagan's 40-year nightmare ... Here’s a brain teaser: would Ted have beaten Carter in the primaries and Reagan in the general had BS not jumped ship and joined his team? Hmm … But everyone agrees BS writes a great concession speech; undeterred, in 1986 BS went to work for Dick Gephardt, who lost the Democratic primaries to Michael Dukakis; BS then landed his impressive expertise with the Duke, who promptly blew a double-digit lead, losing to Bush I; thankfully, in 1992 BS rested and Bill Clinton managed to retake the White House for the Democrats, presiding over a historic period of growth and prosperity; but then, (no, no, no!) in 2000, political observers were treated to BS's political masterpiece. He went to work for Al Gore. Mark Papantonio explains:
"The Democrats are going to blow it again. It’s like they’re never going to rid themselves of BS ... The Democratic political handlers process is so incestuous that it hasn’t changed as far back as when BS “political expert” types decided it would be a good idea to let Joe Lieberman run as a VP candidate with Al Gore. These “skilled” and crafty Democratic handlers made that peculiar decision, even though Bob Graham, probably the most popular politician in Florida history, was the guy that all the polls pointed to for carrying the key state of Florida in a hands-down Gore victory, that should have happened. Rank-and-file Democrats were pleading with the party to make that happen, and the GOP was terrified by that very prospect. But no, the "genius" of the highly paid Democratic consultant prevailed once again, and that Lieberman joke decision has plagued us for the last [11 years, now]. The ghost of BS is still alive and well in Democratic leadership … That overbred incestuous crowd of overpaid, over-relied-on political handlers are going to manage once more to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. You watch."
Wow. With such a ringing endorsement of BS's political skills, no wonder he shamelessly hitched his wagon to the John Kerry campaign for one last hurrah. Naturally, Kerry lost to the most unpopular president in recent memory, after being swiftboated in the process. I don't know about you, but my guess is, the few Democrats in the know breathed a collective sigh of relief when BS finally retired to Academia, making his way back to idiot punditry on MSNBC, a position for which he, along with good buddy Jonathan, are uniquely qualified. President Obama's team will probably be giving BS a wide berth, even as he's dropping hints that he'd like to be "helpful" to the campaign. Whether the BS "curse" translates to his punditry at MSNBC is anyone's guess. Watch for any precipitous drop in the ratings and good luck, peeps! Here's how legendary cartoonist Al Capp might have portrayed BS:
Evidently, Jonathan hasn't read BS's piece, which was culled from a snarky POLITICO — Beltway Media publication of record — slam on its usual political scarecrows, the Democratic Party, Labor, and Progressives. (Has anyone noticed, lately, that the new Idiot Punditocracy assumptions assembled by Beltway Media narrative driver POLITICO are that the President is on the ropes, based on his latest numbers, Democrats are disaffected, based on the usual quotes from secret sources, and the landscape favors the GOP, based on the clowns we saw last night? It's really disgusting how Chris Matthews, and others, lap it all up without an ounce of critical thinking, once POLITICO lays down the law and determines how the Idiot Punditocracy must think.)

BS starts out by ripping into the local NY machine for losing Weiner's seat, and "anonymous" Democratic donors, bitching about feeling "betrayed, disappointed, furious, disgusted" who "weren't for Obama in the first place" but now can say "I told you so." Well, this hardly describes the "base." I know some people who donated upwards of $600 to Obama's campaign, but most of us can scarcely part with five bucks. We've made up for it by working hard for Obama in the 2008 election volunteering our time with boots on the ground. But, quite honestly, any baser who has donated hundreds to the Obama campaign has every right to vent. They're not attending $30,000 a head fundraisers. But $600 puts plenty of food on the table.

As for saying "I told you so," most Progressives would reply, guilty as charged. We don't rub it in, but when BS artists like BS and Jonathan smear us with a snarky lie (we weren't for Obama in the first place) we'll throw it back in their face. During the healthcare wars, while Jonathan was crafting his magnum Obama, I sent the White House a "Dear Mr. President" e-mail, also posted on this blog. This is part of what I wrote:
Dear Mr. President:

In watching your recent town hall meetings on healthcare, it seems that you're losing the pro-healthcare reform message to the forces arrayed against it — significantly the insurance industry, with its $1.4 million daily investment aimed at spreading fear and misinformation among vulnerable populations, such as our seniors.

I wish you'd hone your message. For example, why haven't you mentioned the waste, fraud, and abuse of the insurance industry. Twenty cents out of every dollar is spent by insurers on non-healthcare delivery; lining the pockets of CEOs and shareholders, and on advertising to defeat your plan. The other day you were at AARP. Their Medicare supplement is insured by UnitedHealth Group, which posted a 155% profit and had agreed to a $400 million settlement with the New York Attorney General for defrauding its customers over a period of years. The Lewin Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of UnitedHealth, has been dishing out misleading statistics in talking points to Republicans in the House and Senate, including Senator Grassley, slamming your public option.

The White House response: crickets.

Sure, you've spoken of the public option in town halls, but not once have you specifically pushed back against your opposition: the health insurance industry and Congressional Republicans. Why?

Rather than giving Congress a clear direction on your priorities, drawing a line in the sand, you have allowed the tail to wag the dog. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is prancing around the Senate halls like a Maharajah with his loyal sidekick, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. Their closed door meetings of the so-called Group of Six have resulted in the evisceration of key Democratic provisions and priorities of yours, most notably the public option. All of this to peel off two or three Republican votes so that it can be called bipartisan?

With all due respect, Mr. President, we didn't vote for change, we didn't hand you huge majorities in the House, and a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, to have the fate of meaningful healthcare reform for all Americans decided, or rather destroyed, by Senator Chuck Grassley, who is a shill for the insurance industry.

I'm among a growing number of Democrats who are outraged by Senator Baucus's capitulation. We believe Senator Baucus should be divested of his chairmanship. Senator Rockefeller favors this as well. We hear of all the hard work the Senator is putting into this effort, the long hours. The problem is, he's not working on behalf of the American people; he's working for the insurance industry. Are we really to believe it makes no difference that Senator Baucus is the second highest recipient of insurance industry campaign donations, behind Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell?

The other day I saw a photo of the Group of Six: Senators Baucus, Grassley, and Snowe were chortling, while the Democrats around the table looked grim. This was in the wake of the news the Group will slash the public option and other Democratic priorities. Not surprisingly, Aetna stock rose 12% on this expectation. One observer noted that insurance industry CEOs would be exchanging high fives in their corporate boardrooms.

I know you're a student of history, Mr. President, and if I could suggest a role model in this fight, it would be Bobby Kennedy. One reason that Bobby could bridge the great divides in American society, communicating as easily with inner-city blacks and latinos as with white conservative hardhats and rural voters is that he didn't pander to any of these groups. He told it to them straight, he didn't back down, and he couched his message in clear moral terms. When he said something was unacceptable, people knew he meant it.

We're losing this fight, Mr. President. If you don't push back against the powerful anti-reform forces, we will not get meaningful healthcare reform for all Americans.
One can summarize this text in four words: "I Told You So."

Although it focused on healthcare, this message generally embodies the Progressive critique of this President. Simply substitute "healthcare reform" for reform and we can go down the list of reforms this President tried to achieve which have been blocked, rejected, or watered down by an obstructionist Republican minority. Financial institutions reform is on life support. Card Check, the "Employee Free Choice Act," passed by the House in 2007, never got an up-or-down vote in the Senate. President Obama threw it under the bus early on — a useless concession to Republicans and business — who gave nothing in return. And the critical jobs agenda, which should have been front and center in the stimulus bill, was sacrificed in favor of minimally stimulative tax cuts.

Through it all, the President acted as if he and the Democratic Party hadn't received a clear and unambiguous mandate from the American people to pursue his agenda and ram it through, LBJ-style, if he encountered the obstructionism he did. Progressives believe the genesis of the Democratic Party's historic losses in the House to an extremist, well-funded anti-government minority of zealots can be traced not only to the White House's atrocious messaging during this critical phase but to the President's passivity, ceding the bully pulpit to corporatist Democrats like Max Baucus and Ben Nelson, and allowing Republicans to step into the leadership void with their obstructionism and lies.

All of it — all of it could have been have been avoided had President Obama heeded our warnings. Had he fought back then, instead of now, drawing his lines in the sand and confronting Republican obstructionism early on, this President and the Democratic Party would have been in a far stronger position politically heading into the 2012 elections. More to the point, had the President neutralized the Republicans and passed the progressive program he ran on — jobs, healthcare, aid to states and education, infrastructure — our country, today, would be in a stronger position economically, and the President's polls would be stronger too.

Next, BS slams "disaffected elements" of the Labor movement. It's an easy, de riguer target for the Beltway Media. POLITICO, naturally, is quoted by BS claiming Labor might concentrate on state contests rather than Obama's re-election. First, BS and Jonathan and their Beltway pals might be surprised to learn Labor can walk and chew gum at the same time. With Scott Walker facing recall in Wisconsin and tanking approval ratings for Republican governors in key states like Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan, and Florida, why shouldn't Labor press its advantage? These state populations are energized against their radical Republican state agendas, the centerpiece of which is to kill Labor, and have organized to support their public employee unions. While BS blasts Labor for being "ungrateful" it seems Labor's trial balloon worked because President Obama came running back to the fold — and was received with open arms.

You see, BS and Jonathan, the President didn't lift a finger to help Labor while its epic struggle for survival in the states was going on. When asked a direct question during his "listening tour" he prevaricated and said Labor needed to "sacrifice" — a direct slap in the face to any union member in these states who has sacrificed pensions, salary, and health care and is fighting to hold on to collective bargaining and a seat at the table. This set Big Eddie off big time. I think, here, BS gives us a glimpse of the kind of bad advice he typically passed on to his Democratic candidate clients which contributed to their electoral defeat. It was only later, during his speech before a joint session of Congress that the President reaffirmed his commitment to collective bargaining.

So far, we've dispensed with the cheap shots against small Democratic donors (BS never makes the distinction because he knows full well the complainants are the large donors) and Labor. So what about individual Progressive Democrats? We need some names, BS and Jonathan. C'mon, you elitist jackasses; if you're going to broad-brush us with the "crybabies" label, the least you can do is have the balls to name names. Oh wait, I spoke too soon; BS does name names. Here's the list: James Carville, Steny Hoyer, and Sherrod Brown. Of these, only Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio can be called a genuine Progressive. Carville is a CNN gadfly, a faux liberal whose biggest achievement in life is getting the Lord of Triangulation and bad trade agreements, Bill Clinton, elected president. See my blog post, in which I blow Carville out of the water. But let me help you; here are some names you didn't mention: Senators Mary Landrieu, Jim Webb, Kay Hagan, and our fearless Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, all of whom are balking at the President's jobs bill.

Wow. What an impressive array of Progressive flamers. I must congratulate BS for exposing all these named and unnamed "crybabies" representing the "base" of the Democratic Party. I must have missed something in the political translation. You know, us Progressives are kind of slow, doctrinaire, not as "nuanced" as the Idiot Punditocracy. (Shoutout to Dean Matthews: Keep trying pal; you might get there with us someday.) As for Senator Brown, funny POLITICO should quote him out of context, because just the other day I got an e-mail from Senator Brown in which he said, in part:
Dear Carlos,
The hard work you're doing on behalf of Ohio's public employees, firefighters and police officers hasn't gone unnoticed. And I want to let you know that it's making waves across the country. Recently Ed Schultz came to Columbus to find out firsthand what this fight looks like. I joined my colleague, Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-17), and Jack Reall, president of the Columbus Professional Firefighters Union, to talk about how our state has come together to stand up for our working families. If you didn't have a chance to see it when it aired, take a few minutes today to watch the segment, then click on the links to share it with your friends. It's like I told Ed. Establishing a lasting middle class and investing in our nation's infrastructure made our nation strong for generations -- it's a legacy you're helping to preserve by sticking up for our firefighters, teachers, nurses and police officers. I'm proud to stand with you in this fight to ensure that our families and children have the opportunity to get ahead and achieve their dreams.
I'll keep doing what I can, Senator, and thanks for sticking up for Progressive values. Needless to say, Senator Brown stands foursquare behind the President's jobs bill. Okay, enough of BS, let's dump on Jonathan and wrap this up. Jonathan said "Democrats need to act more like Republicans." Wrong, egghead! As I wrote the President, Democrats need to be more like Bobby — ruthless toward our enemies and standing up for principles and values the American people can get behind. The template applies equally well to FDR and Harry Truman.

But the cheap shot that really sticks in one's craw is this that Jonathan said: "Democrats traditionally don’t do that very well (act like Republicans), so this gives them some ability to do it, and it also gives Obama some cover for some pretty deep cuts that are in this package that are getting no attention now because of this base bait that he’s offered with this millionaire tax cut."

The President's millionaire's tax proposal is "base bait" — really? Jonathan must think Progressives are really stupid, that we don't know this has very little chance of passage in the House. Or that the Bush tax cuts are due to expire, once again, next year. What the President has done is move the debate nationally, pressuring obstructionist Republicans to justify not allowing an up-or-down vote on the bill, with an issue that enjoys support across the political spectrum, polling between 66 percent and 80 percent in favor of taxing millionaires. This isn't "base bait." If anything, it's "independent voters bait." Despite the cheap shots and false allegations, Progressives are standing with the President. And, it seems, BS and Jonathan can't stand it.

Jonathan and BS, emperors of BS, where are your clothes? Please jump in the proverbial lake because, frankly, you're a couple of naked eyesores. This one clearly belongs in The Zone. But since Big Eddie is constrained from selecting a colleague, I'll do the honors:

And just to show there are no hard feelings, here are a couple of FDR clips to assist Jonathan in getting back on track with his political re-education:


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