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“Reclaiming The Turf”: On Our Own Terms, Running On Issues That Have Traditionally Been The Staple Of A Democratic Agenda

I’m growing increasingly weary of the kind of political analysis exemplified most recently by Dana Milbank. He takes a look at some recent polling that suggests more people are identifying themselves as liberal and prefers this explanation.

A third theory, which I find compelling, is that the rise in liberalism is a backlash against the over-the-top conservatism displayed by the tea party movement. The Pew Research Center and others have documented a dramatic increase in ideological polarization within political parties over two decades. The Republican Party has long been dominated by conservatives, and the recent rise in liberalism among Democrats may be a mirror image of that — the beginnings of a tea party of the left.

A “tea party of the left?” Oh puhleeze!

Let’s spend just a moment recapping some history. First of all, with the routing that Ronald Reagan gave Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election, a lot of Democrats decided that it was time to moderate and play some ball on Republican turf. That gave us things like “the era of big government is over,” signing on to the need to reform welfare, and a big push to “get tough on crime.” The overall conversation felt – to many of us on the left – like it was being based on Republican terms.

And then came eight years of Bush/Cheney. As I wrote previously, by the end of their term it was clear that Republican policies had left us mired in two wars in the Middle East, careening towards a second Great Depression, and a federal deficit that was ballooning out of control. At that point, smart pundits knew that the real 2008 presidential election was the one that happened in the Democratic primary. Whoever won that one was likely to be our next POTUS because – no matter how loudly the right wing screamed – the majority of Americans were done with Republican policies.

It was in that scenario that the tea party was born – stoked by the racist fears of this country having elected our first African American president. As just one example of how radical these folks are, let’s remember that they are the ones who wanted to blow up the entire global economy rather than raise the U.S. debt ceiling. That their “establishment” accomplices were willing to take us to that brink on a couple of occasions tells us all we need to know about how radicalized the Republicans have become.

Now we have had six and a half years of a Democratic President who ended those two wars, has presided over the longest expansion of private sector job growth in our history and provided millions of Americans with access to health care. The candidate most likely to be his successor is running on such non-radical notions as raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation, investing in infrastructure, addressing climate change, immigration reform, criminal justice reform and expanded educational opportunities.

In other words, Democrats are reclaiming the turf. That means having the conversation on our own terms and running on issues that have traditionally been the staple of a Democratic agenda. That they also happens to align with the views of a majority of voters in this country means that it is the opposite of tea party extremism. The mirror Mr. Milbank sees is the one Democrats are holding up to reflect the views of the people they’re running to represent.

That’s what is making it cool to be a liberal again.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 21, 2015

June 24, 2015 Posted by | Conservatism, Democrats, Liberals | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is Obama Bold Enough For You Now?”: Conservatives Derided Him For Timidity, Appalled At What A Tyrant They Now Think He’s Being

Remember when the problem everyone had with Barack Obama was how passive he was? In late October, Charles Krauthammer lamented Obama’s “observer presidency with its bewildered-bystander pose.” Dana Milbank agreed that “The real problem with Obama is not overreach but his tendency to be hands-off.” Milbank quoted Mitt Romney approvingly for his criticism of Obama for not being sufficiently “focused” on the Ebola threat (I guess a more focused president would have managed to avert the thousands of American Ebola deaths—oh wait). Anonymous Hillary Clinton aides tell reporters that unlike the “passive” Obama, their boss is going to be “aggressive” and “decisive” when it comes to foreign crises. Leon Panetta writes a memoir criticizing Obama for being passive, but the specific criticisms look a lot like, “I told the President to do something, and he didn’t follow my advice!”

This isn’t a new complaint. For years, pundits who are supposed to have some sense of how politics actually works have looked at the institutional and political limits surrounding policymaking and whined, “Why won’t Obama lead?” as though he could do things like make Republicans agree with him if only he were to exert his will more manfully. A close cousin of this inane belief is the idea that Obama could solve some complicated problem by giving a really good speech about it, an idea that has had disturbing currency among Obama’s liberal critics.

Perhaps some of this comes from the contrast between Obama and his predecessor, who called himself “the decider,” so decisive was he. During his time in office, reporters and headline writers were forever referring to George W. Bush’s proposals and actions as “bold,” almost regardless of what they entailed. And some of them actually were. Invading Iraq? Now that was bold. Had Obama decided to invade Syria, that would have been bold, too. But we probably wouldn’t be too pleased with the results.

Even when Obama has done bold things, he’s seldom described that way. Perhaps it’s because of his generally calm countenance; I’m really not sure. But his career has been characterized by periods of patience interrupted by calculated risks taken when the timing seemed right. So maybe it’s because many of the “bold” things Obama has done, like running for president after only a couple of years in the Senate or proposing ambitious health care reform, actually worked out. In retrospect, everyone thinks an electoral or legislative success was pre-ordained, and the sage observer saw it coming all along. Perhaps if Obama crashed and burned in dramatic ways more often, he’d get more credit for boldness.

But now, with two years remaining in his presidency and faced with a Congress unified under Republican control, Obama doesn’t look so passive. He’s using executive authority to grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, he’s making agreements with China on carbon reductions, he’s issuing regulations on ozone. Of course, the same conservatives who derided him for timidity are appalled at what a tyrant they now think he’s being. Could it be that nobody really cares whether he’s being too bold or too passive, and those complaints are just a cover for their substantive disagreements with whatever he’s doing (or not doing) at a particular moment?

If there’s an area where you think Obama hasn’t done what he should have, go ahead and make that criticism. You might be right. There may be issues on which he’s allowed the status quo to continue when you think more aggressive moves were called for, and you could be right about that too. But presidents constantly make choices to pursue some paths and not others, to allow some policies to remain in place while trying to change others, to start some political fights that they think look winnable while avoiding others that don’t. If you think some issue ought to be higher on his agenda, the fact that it isn’t is probably just because he doesn’t agree with you on that particular point, not because of some broader orientation toward passivity that is holding him back.

And if you’re pleased that he’s moving on immigration and climate change, is it because you think the things he’s doing are worthwhile, or because you just favor boldness in the abstract? I’ll bet it’s the former.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Politics, President Obama | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Tired, Old And Wrong Cliche”: President Obama Is No ‘Bystander’

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delivered a widely noticed speech in September 2011, condemning President Obama, not just on policy grounds, but specifically on the issue of leadership. “We continue to wait and hope that our president will finally stop being a bystander in the Oval Office,” the governor said. “We hope that he will shake off the paralysis that has made it impossible for him to take on the really big things.”

Much of the political media agreed and echoed the assessment. Pundits crying, “Why won’t Obama lead?” became so common, a tired cliche was born. The president may have run as a young, ambitious leader, eager to change the world, but the Beltway was increasingly convinced: Obama is an overly cautious, overly cerebral president who would rather talk than act.

Two weeks ago, Dana Milbank went so far as to endorse Charles Krauthammer’s thesis of Obama as a “passive bystander.”

The real problem with Obama is not overreach but his tendency to be hands-off.

Since the second year of Obama’s presidency, I have been lamenting the lack of strong leadership coming from the White House, describing Obama in June, 2010, as a “hapless bystander … as the crises cancel his agenda and weaken his presidency.” I’ve since described him over the years as “oddly like a spectator” and as “President Passerby.”

Let’s put aside, for now, the fact that the bystander thesis completely contradicts the other common anti-Obama condemnation: he’s a tyrannical dictator whose radical agenda is destroying the very fabric of America.

Instead, let’s focus on why the bystander thesis appears to be outrageously wrong – especially today.

Faced with an intensifying climate crisis, a hapless bystander, content to watch challenges pass him by, might have decided to do nothing. Maybe he’d call for action in a State of the Union address or issue a white paper, but President Spectator would struggle to shake off the paralysis that makes it impossible to take on the really big things.

Except Obama’s done the opposite, unveiling an ambitious domestic agenda, striking a deal with China that few thought possible, and challenging the rest of the world to follow his lead. It’s an effort wrought with political and policy pitfalls, but Obama’s doing it anyway because he sees this as an effort worth making.

As we discussed back in February, there’s a group of pundits who’ve invested almost comical amounts of time urging Obama to “lead more.” It’s never been entirely clear what, specifically, these pundits expect the president to do, especially in the face of unyielding and reflexive opposition from Congress, but the complaints have been constant for years.

As the argument goes, if only the president were willing to lead – louder, harder, and bigger – he could somehow advance his agenda through sheer force of will, institutional constraints be damned. And if Congress resists, it’s necessarily evidence that Obama is leading poorly – after all, if only he were a more leading leader, Congress would … follow his lead. The line of criticism became so tiresome and so common that Greg Sargent began mocking it with a convenient label: the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power.

What seems obvious now, however, is the need for these pundits to reconsider the thesis.

Obama saw a worsening climate crisis, so he decided to take the lead. Obama is tired of waiting for a hapless Congress to act on immigration, so he’s leading here, too. Obama saw an Ebola threat, and he’s leading a global effort to save lives. Obama sees an ISIS threat, so he’s leading an international campaign to confront the militants.

The president showed leadership when disarming Syria of its chemical weapons. He’s showing leadership in trying to strike a nuclear deal with Iran. He showed leadership on the minimum wage, raising it for federal contractors while Congress sat on its hands. He’s showed leadership on health care, rescuing the auto industry, and advancing the cause of civil rights. [Update: several readers reminded me he’s leading on net neutrality, too.]

The policymaking process is filled with choke points, but when the president has his eyes on a priority, he doesn’t just throw up his arms in despair when one door closes; he looks for a new route to his destination.

Now, if Obama’s critics want to question whether he’s leading the country in the right direction, that’s obviously grounds for a spirited debate – each of the president’s decisions can and should be evaluated closely on the merits. “Leadership” is not an a priori good. Obama can take the lead on a given issue, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s right.

But if Obama’s detractors would have Americans believe he’s not leading at all, I haven’t the foggiest idea what they’re talking about.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 14, 2014

November 17, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Media, Pundits | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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