Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Good Greife! Or is it?

"Barack Obama finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, or should I say, between Democrats and Republicans. In an attempt to please them both he has satisfied neither."

So begins a new blog entry by Brandon Greife over at NextRight, and in a world in which most of his fellow conservatives try to portray the Obama as some sort of wild-eyed socialist radical, it seems the beginning of a more level-headed evaluation of the Obama administration. Unfortunately Greife's analysis goes off the rails in working from some popular-but-fictional premises. Seeing as how I've written about those fictions in the past, I thought I'd bang out a few words on the subject.

The most glaring is the longest-standing of the batch, this mythical narrative of the Clinton administration:

"After a disastrous first two years in office, in which Clinton was lambasted for a liberal agenda that included failed attempts at health care reform and gun control, he course corrected. His march toward the right was highlighted by bipartisan achievements such as welfare reform and a balanced budget and crowned with his famous line, 'the era of big government is over.'"

Way back when (during the 1996 presidential campaign, to be exact), this narrative had already taken shape--and taken hold--and I wrote a corrective, documenting the fact that:

"As an examination of the Clinton administration, this doesn't even reach the level of shallow analysis. Nor was it ever intended to; it is no more than a political myth manufactured by those on the right to serve their own narrow ends... Not only does the record fail to bear out this interpretation, it shows exactly the opposite; that Clinton is a conservative, ran as a conservative, and, in the words of Progressive editor Mathew Rothschild, 'has governed as a Republican.'"

Clinton was, in fact, more conservative than his Republican predecessor. It's noteworthy that Greife, in searching for examples of Clinton's "liberal agenda," doesn't have much from which to choose. He picks an old favorite in Clinton's health care effort, but, in the real world, Clinton refused to even consider the liberal option (single payer), opting instead for an industry-friendly proposal lifted, almost entirely, from a conservative Republican reform bill then in congress. Greife's second example is Clinton's "failed attempt" at "gun control." That didn't fail, though; it was a part of Clinton's crime bill in 1993. That crime bill was, in almost every particular, identical to the crime bill assembled (but not passed) by Clinton's Republican predecessor, George Bush, who, of course, didn't have a liberal bone in his body.

Greife continues, arguing that "in words as well as deeds, Clinton grasped the fundamental truth that this is a center-right nation." This is a popular myth--or, to call it what it really is, delusion--among conservatives, and Greife backs it up with--surprise, surprise--polling data on ideological self-identification. In a world in which decades of conservative demonization of the word "liberal" always leads large numbers of liberals to tell pollsters they're "moderate" and even "conservative," self-identified conservatives always significantly outnumber self-identified liberals in such polls, and the small number of self-identified liberals always ends up being used, by conservatives, as the "evidence" of the conservative bent of the public. It's something about which I've written before. Conservatives are fooling themselves on this one, big time. As I wrote in that earlier piece back in November:

"The hard, cold political reality facing the right today--the one that's still there after the poll results, and after all that back-slapping--is that the U.S. isn't a conservative nation. What's more, that conclusion isn't even particularly controversial for anyone who has examined the matter in any detail; for the most part, it isn't even close. Public opinion is more heavily polled in the U.S. than in any other country on earth. On issue after issue, Americans are not only with the liberals, but with them overwhelmingly... One is hard pressed to find a single major public policy issue on which the liberals don't hold an overwhelming advantage in public sentiment."

And I offered lots of examples.

Greife, working from his faulty premises, thinks "Barack Obama will be compelled to adopt many conservative positions, or at the very least let Republicans into the room." Obama has "let Republicans into the room" from the beginning--they are, in fact, running large parts of his administration, and his every major initiative has seen him granting massive concessions to the conservatives and Republicans before any debate even begins. He has bent over backwards to accommodate them. Bent so far, he's nearly broken his own back. Congressional Republicans simply won't work with him on anything, and for a very obvious reason: The Republican party is, collectively, mad. Not mad as in "angry" (though they're always that), but mad as in "hatters." Crazy. Made up of ill-informed half-wits and conspiracist crackpots. These aren't the fringe anymore--they are the party. A new Research 2000 poll of Republicans released earlier today outlines this sickness. Some of the highlights (lowlights?):

--Should Barack Obama be impeached or not?
39% said yes, 29% "not sure," only 32% said no.

--Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States, or not?
58% said either no, or they weren’t sure.

--Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?
63% said yes, another 16% said they weren’t sure; only 21% no.

--Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win?
57% chose either "yes" or "not sure."

--Do you believe ACORN stole the 2008 election?
76% chose either "yes" or "not sure," only 24% "no."

--Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama?
53% said yes, only 14% said no.

--Do you believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people?
64% said either yes, or not sure; 36% no.

And so on. The idea that Republicans are politically invested in refusing to work with Obama or the Democrats on anything isn't just some Democratic party talking point. It reflects the political reality found in this polling data. A massive shift to the right and away from sanity itself has occurred, and the Republican base won't tolerate any "bipartisanship." Cooperation with Obama or Democrats is equated with treason. Look at what happened to Lindsey Graham when he merely suggested he may work with them on global warming; suddenly, one of the most conservative members of congress finds himself labeled a RINO, and is heckled by reactionaries calling him a traitor and demanding to know when he’s going to change parties. John McCain, who, less than two years ago, was the Republican choice for their presidential candidate, is now being primaried by former Republican congressman J.D. Hayworth, whose remarkable physical resemblance to Hermann Goering is matched only by his political similarities. All through last year, Republicans accelerated their efforts to rid the party of any and all who don't toe the most extreme right line (a line utterly alienating to the general public Greife mistakenly believes is politically closer to it). The Obama, speaking at a town hall in New Hampsire today, offered, in a different context, a perfect example of how this manifests itself in congress. Seven Republicans signed on to the PAYGO bill, which would have mandated cutting funds from some existing program (rather than taxing or borrowing) to pay for any new one. These Republicans were enthusiasts of the bill right up until the Obama announced his own support for it, at which time they became terrified of being seen as collaborators and immediately withdrew their backing.

The biggest obstacle to Republicans taking advantage of any slip-up by the Obama or the Democrats is the Republicans themselves. Greife concludes: "Republicans cannot rest on the knowledge their foe is suffering, we must pick up the mantle of real reform." Given the political reality of the moment, the image this immediately calls to mind is the scene in THE BIG RED ONE wherein the nutcase in the asylum snatches up a machine gun and starts mowing down his fellow inmates with chants, to the American troops, of "I AM ONE OF YOU! I AM SANE!" That's reform for you. If you're a conservative Republican, at least.



Anonymous said...

I know a number of good, thoughtful Republicans. I think that as much as I disagree with them, Senators Snowe and Collins are reasonable. Yet the poll results you show explain why the Senators from my state get sneered at with the label "RINO" by the true believers. A dangerous populist even neo-fascist narrative has taken over much of the jargon of the right, and it feeds in on itself with certainty and claims of false authority that the listeners believe it. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin...American counterparts to Goebbels, Mussolini and their ilk.

Yet, I cannot give up the hope that somehow we can rediscover compromise. I don't think the "tea party" path can win for the Republicans. I think the center voters will reject that. Even Scott Brown, who is getting hailed by the right as having sent Obama a message, is a New England moderate Republican. That tea party Hoffman guy in New York, on the other hand, lost.

But if the message is so loud that bi-partisanship becomes indeed impossible, then we've entered a dangerous time. If serious disagreements give way to wild theories and personal attacks like they have in those poll results, then we won't have a debate about taxation, health care, or different approaches to governance. It'll all be "stop those terrorist loving socialists who have a Kenyan born anti-American as their leader."

I'm not sure, though, if Obama is really trying now so much to get the Republicans on his side, but to stop conservative leaning Democrats from "running for the hills" as he put it. It's not clear the Democrats could get 51 votes for reconciliation on the health care bill in the Senate.

At this point, you're probably right that the Democrats have to pass what they can, and hope that the results in the fall sober rather than invigorate the far right. Otherwise, we'll just have political jihad, and I don't think our Republic can survive that.

classicliberal2 said...

The problem is that, within the conservative bubble, there's not only no real constituency for compromise; any effort at compromise infuriates the base. They live in an alternate reality generated by Limbaugh, Beck, Fox News and the like. There have always been people like that, but they were always fringe-nuts, and considered as such by everyone, right, left, and all in between. Now, huge infusions of right-wing cash have created this bubble, sealed off from the real world, the crazies, tucked beneath it, have become the mainstream, and the politicians and Powers That Be are delighted to exploit them for their own ends.

Combine this with that Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case and our future prospects are very bleak, indeed.

If you want to see the primary preoccupation of the right-wing "netroots," do a Google search for "RINO hunters." The conservatives have been "cleansing" the party for some time, now, setting themselves up as a permanent minority party because they live under the delusion that the public is to the right.

I don't have much use for "bipartisanship." In the current political climate, I have no use at all for it, and, in fact, it has no place. The Obama wasted his first year in office by trying to do everything that way.

The way one achieves "compromise" in politics is to start from a strong position, fight for it while hashing out the issue, and, at the end, come to some sort of compromise in which the minority gets a few concessions, but the majority mostly gets its way (by virtue of being the majority). Obama instead gives up everything as Step 1, and the other side has no motivation to do anything other than dig in its heels and say no. So Obama compromises more, then he does it some more, then some more. The other side never gives up an inch, and ends up getting its way, because whatever does finally pass (without any substantial minority support) is so watered down that it isn't worth passing anyway.

Can you imagine the public reaction if Obama, with all the public energy and enthusiasm his campaign had generated, had been smart, and simply let Republicans filibuster everything they wanted (which is everything)? The public would crucify the Republicans--after two or three months of it, Obama could have had anything he wanted. By, instead, acting as the compromiser-in-chief, he ends up looking weak and ineffectual to the righties and completely turning off the lefties.

You should read this blog from the beginning, Scott. I don't like to blow my own horn, but I am a pretty good political analyst, and I predicted, starting back before the Obama had even been sworn in, what would happen if he went down this Rodney King-ist "can't we all just get along" path, and those early blog entries predicted the future so accurately they may as well have been prophecy (they're so dead-on, in fact, that they're a little creepy to me, to tell you the truth).

Obama had the liberals--which is to say, the public--on his side. He can still have them, but he has to stop going in to every policy fight with an olive-branch in his hand and the best proposals left on the cutting-room floor in an effort to attract support he'll never get. He and the Demos need to just brush the conservatives aside and accomplish what they can. It's what they should have been doing from the beginning, and if they had, the right would have quickly realized it was being shut out of governing, and would have at least had a strong reason for trying to get some sort of seat at the table.