Thomas Frank, who is one of my favorite guys, slammed President Obama hard a couple of days ago in Right-wing obstruction could have been fought: An ineffective and gutless presidency’s legacy is failure. The whole article is pretty much in the title. But here’s a bit more —
….In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration’s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster’s grasp—heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)
At the other end of the Democratic scale, Kevin Drum writes,
I see this kind of thing all the time on the right. If only we had a candidate who refused to sell out conservative values! A candidate who could truly make the American public understand! Then we’d win in a landslide!
It’s easy to recognize this as delusional. Tea party types are always convinced that America is thirsting for true conservatism, and all that’s needed is a latter-day Ronald Reagan to be its salesman. Needless to say, this misses the point that Americans aren’t all reactionaries. In fact, as the embarrassing clown shows of the past two GOP primaries have shown, even most Republicans aren’t reactionaries. There’s been no shortage of honest-to-God right wingers to choose from, but they can’t even win the nomination, let alone a general election.
(Of course you never know. Maybe 2016 is the year!)
But if it’s so easy to see this conservative delusion for what it is, why isn’t it equally easy to recognize the same brand of liberal delusion? Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don’t be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution. Those pathetic demonstrations outside the headquarters of AIG were about a hundredth the size that even a half-ass political organization can muster for a routine anti-abortion rally. After a few days the AIG protestors got bored and went home without so much as throwing a few bottles at cops. Even the Greeks managed that much.
I think they both make good points. Yes, President Obama let some opportunities slip by him, especially those first couple of years. He could have done a much better job taking his arguments to the American public and making some leverage for himself.
On the other hand, it’s still the case that right-wing politics dominates our political culture as well as news media, and even for those two years the Dems had a majority in the Senate and House, a big chunk of those Dems were Blue Dogs who voted with Republicans as often as not. He never had a majority of progressives who supported him. So there have always been real and tangible limits to what he could accomplish, no matter what he did.
As for “demonizing the Right” — those people are demons, metaphorically speaking. There is no bottom to their nefariousness.
The public, having been fed a near-pure diet of right-wing propaganda since at least 1980, and I would argue longer than that, is leery of progressive policies. It’s less leery than it was ten years ago, as the financial crisis and subsequent economic hardships softened them up a lot. But progressives still have a lot of work to do to sell their agenda to the public.
I still run into lefties who honestly believe the country was ready to embrace single payer health care in 2009 and it was only President Obama who stood in the way. This is proof that it’s not just righties who live with their heads up their asses.
The truth is that there are big chunks of the country in which progressive voices are never heard except by those who go looking for them on the Internet. Public political news and discourse runs the gamut from Ross Douthat to Ted Cruz to Cliven Bundy. This is not to say that there aren’t folks in those places who might respond well to progressive ideas if they ever heard any. But until that happens, we don’t know.
I’ve been saying all along that it’s going to take a long game, several election cycles, and a lot of work to turn things around. That’s still true.
The priority right now is to be sure Dems keep the Senate, which is do-able. In this we should be following Elizabeth Warren:
Meanwhile Warren, the progressive elected the same time as Cruz, is touring the country campaigning for Democratic Senate candidates, even some who are more centrist than she is, like Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and West Virginia’s Natalie Tennant. She’s focused on growing the Democratic Party, not cutting down colleagues who are less progressive.
While packing the Senate with less-progressive Dems in order to hold on to it is not ideal, letting the GOP have it would be much worse.