Bandwagon Voters and the Dysfunction on the Left

By Al Giordano

Somewhere in America – actually, on every street – there is an Independent voter, or a family of them.

Let's call them Mr. and Mrs. Independent. Contrary to the hype, they are less likely to be small-i independent in the sense of open-mindedness and careful vetting of issues and policy positions than they are prone to looking, election after election, for which bandwagon to jump onto.

And that explains how, on Tuesday, so many of the same Massachusetts Independent voters that cast ballots 14 months ago for Democrat Barack Obama went and did so for Republican Scott Brown.

The harsh reality is that so many of these “Independents” can more properly be called “Bandwagon Voters.”

Imagine Mr. and Mrs. Independent living on one of those streets. In the house to the right of them is one family, devout evangelical Christian, pro military interventions, and desiring of lower taxes.

Mr. and Mrs. Independent consider the family to the right a little bit scary and weird. In the privacy of their home they might even make fun of the family on the right, which reminds them of that of the cartoon Flanders family on The Simpsons TV show. And the Independents don’t generally agree with the Flanders' obsessions against abortion and gays. Still, they share some of the same fear of people of different races (most of the Independents are white), they also resent taxes, respect the military, and they also have to contend with the family in the house to the left.

In the house to the left is a more liberal family. Really, it more resembles the Simpsons themselves. Often, if given the choice between attending a party at either neighbor’s home, Mr. and Mrs. Independent will choose the party in house on the left, as they did in 2008. The Simpsons are generally more fun than the Flanders.

But if throughout 2009 the dysfunction inside the house on the left – the screaming matches, yelling, pouting, expressions of outrage and feigned outrage – spilled out onto the street, it is kind of understandable that this month they chose to accept the invitation of the Flanders instead of that of the Simpsons.

The house in the middle contains the Bandwagon Voters. They will reliably, year in, year out, follow the neighbor that seems like it is having more fun. They’re Good Time Charlies, essentially.

This dynamic – more than any public policy explanation – describes what happened in Massachusetts this week and why it happened.

And this is why we see so many preemptive screeds by the same “progressive” bloggers that have been doing the screaming out in the street all year long. They are now furiously typing to mock the idea that they have any responsibility for the Democrats’ defeat on Tuesday, pointing fingers at everyone else, because somewhere inside their little pea brains they understand perfectly well their role in the dysfunction that scared Mr. and Mr. Independent away this round, and they fear - as well they should - that Tuesday's defeat will fall harder upon them even if their behavior helped create it.

Worse, they’re using Tuesday’s results as permission to scream even louder, disturb the neighborhood even more, yell “I told you so” and make petulant demands that things must be done their way, or else.

And this only makes Mr. and Mrs. Independent more smugly satisfied that they attended the Flanders’ tea party this year instead.

And the continuing efforts at imposed buzzkill by The Poutrage Club of the house on the left only emboldens the Flanders, too. It gives them morale. It makes them more content, in turn, more confident, and therefore more attractive come November.

In that sense, they very much share in the blame that they so desperately attempt to assign to everybody else but them.

That's not "blaming the left." (I'm many paces to the left of most of those people, and many of you who share in this view are, too.)

It is, rather, identifying the dysfunction.

 

Comments

the current screaming match

is nearly turning ME off and I actually want to support healthcare reform and other things the Poutrage Club claim to be working for. I can only imagine how it appears to people who don't know a lot about the issues, maybe, and aren't sure what they think.

It is amusing how, rather than actually analyzing what happened in MA or what opinion polls can tell us about public sentiment, people just repeat what they always said. If they think Obama is not liberal enough, that is their "proposal" for what to do. If they think he is too liberal, that is their "proposal". And of course, their pet project is the one they think will magically solve everything.

Thankfully, Obama himself keeps a cool head, as always.

Democrats are Afraid of Their Own Shadow

I agree with your characterization of the people on the left, like Hamsher, screetching about killing the bill -- essentially sounding a lot like tea baggers. At the same time, one cannot fault rank and file activists who have done so much work to get better candidates into office for feeling outraged that so many Congressional Democrats (and, yes, the President too) are such pussies.

We lose one freaking seat and still command a huge majoriry, and yet all of a sudden people are running for the exits. What cowards. People like you and me didn't put so much blood and sweat (not to mention money) into these campaigns to watch our candidates cut and run at the first sign on trouble.

Republicans are a bunch of psychos; completely anti-social monsters. It's worth voting D just to keep them clear of the levers of power. But, man, I expected Obama to use to bully pulpet every now and then. Instead, his first words are "Of course we wouldn't do anything until the new Senator is seated." Why not? Why is he so afraid to make his case?

It's the smart move

Roy - There would be a huge blowback if they tried to push Health Care Reform through the Senate before Brown is seated (in only 10 or 15 days), and it would come for two reasons.

First, it would be perceived as heavy handed and insulting to the will of the voters of Massachusetts. But that's not the biggest problem.

Second - and this is why Obama made the smart move - the way the Democrats in Congress are behaving, there is no guarantee that he is going to get agreement between the House and Senate in two weeks or less! If he tried to "use the bully pulpit" to push something through conference committee and then through the Senate on that fast timeline, we can virtually guarantee that the Congressional Democrats and their constituent and interest groups will screw it up royally and probably not come to any agreement, or to a really bad one under haste and pressure. Who would that benefit?

(I have to head out for a couple of hours, but will check in later on to chat more.)

Ah Al...as usual, an

Ah Al...as usual, an excellent analogy!

 

Thank you.

Ditto what Al said

Leading is not just marching off in some direction beating your drum, you have to make sure that people are actually following you! Right now, Congressional Democrats probably could not be led to the cafeteria for lunch, let alone to vote for healthcare reform. Pelosi gave a press statement today that she does not have the votes in the House to pass the Senate bill. They are still working on a compromise solution where the House passes the Senate bill in return for an amendment bill run through the reconciliation process to get it through the Senate (something that emerged over the weekend as the most likely way forward). But there is no guarantee on that either. Not only are the Blue Dogs scurrying for cover but the Progressive Caucus is refusing to vote for the Senate bill as well.

People seem to imagine that Obama has some magical power over Congress that he doesn't use and all he has to do is activate it, or that he should take over Pelosi and Reid's job and order Congressional Dems around like robots. The first is a fantasy and the second isn't something we should want even if it were possible.

Imagine if you were worried about doing something. What would persuade you to do it? Somebody yelling at you? Reading you a lecture? Or sitting down with you in a quiet room to talk? And maybe to listen first to your fears and let you know they understand. Members of Congress are people too (really!) and need to be treated the same way we would expect to be treated.

The backseat driving on this issue is making me crazy.

Trying to get the House to pass the Senate version

I've been working the phones all day calling different the D.C. offices of as many Dem Reps. as I can. I'm urging them to pass the Senate version of the bill, as frustrated as I am with many of the progressive concessisons we won't be getting. It's because when I'm knocking on doors this fall, I'll be able to sell the Senate version of the bill on its virtues. I can't sell failure.

I'm troubled by what I'm hearing from staffers. They are not getting a lot of calls like mine. I tell them they know they're screwed when their voters are so angry, frustrated, and disappointed that they won't even bother to call to yell and scream.

 

 

Al, from where I sit it

Al, from where I sit it seems like the most realistic path to getting HCR done is letting Brown get seated, having the House pass the current version of the Senate bill, then possibly using reconciliation to clean the bill up a bit before it goes to the WH.  The current version of the Senate bill seems to be the ceiling on what it can pass, given the switch in the MA seat, so going back to the drawing board there and hoping to get Snowe or Brown on board seems to be a fool's errand.

 

Does that seem on the mark in your eyes?  Any other tactical advice you'd care to offer those of us who want to push our congressfolk in the right direction instead of engaging in hysteria?

tantrums

So true, Al, and they just can't stop.  Even the more rational blogs like Balloon Juice are in meltdown.  Congress people are clearly not rational at this point - why didn't they prepare themselves for the obvious fact that Brown was going to win?  Anyway, once again, Barack Obama seems to be the only adult in the room - well, Obama and Al - it's nice to be able to come to an oasis of sanity now and then.

Healing process

I don't know about you all, but this psychotic "debate" about whether to pass healthcare feels healthy to me on some level. Democratic dysfunction is on full display for all to see and most folks, but particularly Democrats, are disgusted. I say particularly Dems because maybe this painful moment of growth - as the party experiences a moment of real terror - is necessary for Democrats to grow the balls to stick together and realize they CAN actually accomplish something in the face of adversity.

There are even signs of shame among the leadership about how the party has reacted: witness Barney Frank's walk back of his initial doom-filled comments. Maybe Dems have to feel some shame about their consistent pattern of fearfulness and unwillingness over the past few decades to seriously commit to real, tangible social progress, before they can break that pattern and move on. Personally, I reacted with a great deal of anxiety to the Brown win, and am only now coming to grips with the importance of staying both strong AND rational (ahem, Rep. Grijalva, et al.) in the face of a scary political moment.

All of which is to say: pass the fucking bill!

demography of massachusetts swingers?

al, it seems like you're hereby endorsing the "swing voter" alias soccer-mom theory, so beloved of mark penn. maybe it's true in this case and i'm no statistian, but the pccc's post-coakley poll (there were no exit polls) seems more consistent with dems sitting it out because of substantive and high-information policy unenthusiasm. same conclusion from the globe's geographic analysis of the uninspired base: "Of the 25 lightest-voting communities, 18 were cities...". sure you can blame that on "buzzkill" but where's the evidence that suburban swingers tipped the balance in our fair commonwealth, as opposed to a real protest from the "left" (applying your caveats to this term)? PS, i know that party-unaffiliated registration is relatively high in mass., but that in itself doesn't demonstrate a copycat effect.

Independent voters...

Well said.  I've often thought much the same: In my experience, not at all disimilar to your description, most "independent" voters thoroughly despise the Right/Republicans (Flanders) but, nevertheless, readily believe each and every nasty thing they have to say about the Left/Democrats.  In this way, they think they are above the fray when in fact, they are much of the reason for it.

thanks for posting

thanks for posting, al.  i just couldn't bring myself to read any news at all until i could get your view on this.  i knew it would be the post that gave me hope.  (oh and p.s., the plural of 'flanders' is 'flanderses'.)

ever since the '08 election where we were kept hanging by a thread waiting for the 'independents' to decide between obama and mccain - i mean seriously, one way or the other, that wasn't a tough decision to make - i knew that they were largely lemmings, not leaders.  the independents get courted like some thoughtful weigher of complex policy when in fact they really don't care much at all and they just like the attention.  that said, if we can't wave the shiny object that gets their attention on election day, well, meet scott brown.

i know part of me still wants the hollywood screenplay version of the obama presidency - kicking ass and taking names, bringing on a golden era of progressive change, pantsing the republican leadership on the steps of congress for good measure.  and i know i sometimes yell at obama on TV wishing he would utter the soundbite heard 'round the world for the right wing narcissists in this country to shove it, all the way in to that empty space where their ethics should be.

but that isn't him.  and i guess we get the government that we work for.  and we need to do more work.  we need to dismantle the cosy networks that coakleyed the MA vote.  we need to hassle our representatives into showing some backbone in the face of this fearsome republican 41-59 majority.  we need some candidates that can joe sixpack with the best of them, and not because it's some fad, but because that's who they actually are and it's not a bad thing to be.

fact is, the volume of the screeching right was already at eleven, so how much louder can they be?  the left needs to stop clutching each other's pearls for a couple months and sell some progressive policy.  do what we can, move the ball down the field.  there are people out there that these incremental changes actually mean something to, so we need to stop wincing at the shame of still being in the majority and get to work.

To me it seems like

To me it seems like congressional Dems are begging Obama for leadership. But Gibbs today says Obama wants to let Congress sort itself out.

I don't think you can quibble with the disastrous RESPONSE to the Coakley loss. Obama is supposed to be the leader of the Democratic Party isn't he? Why was nothing done to coordinate the response after losing? Instead we got treated to a cavalcade of Dems panicking on tv. Maybe that's marginal, but it does nothing to give anyone any confidence in the elected representatives.

Yes they should know not to act stupid themselves. But the president needs to take charge in moments of party difficulty like that. Even a wall of "no comment" would have been better than the confused open fear.

I know this too will come to pass

I know the dust will settle eventually. I have faith that the Democrats will calm down and get back to work on passing health care reform (or health insurance reform) if for no other reason than that they have no choice now. They're stuck with it. I know all the people running around with their heads cut off will stop it in a few days.

But man, the wait until that time is going to be agonizing.

This Isn't All About Obama

The Congressional Democrats are the biggest chicken littles ever. Look at them all run for the exits. We go from a 20 seat majority in the Senate, which has already passed HCR, to an 18 seat majority (still far larger than the Republicans had under Bush or when they impeached Clinton) and all the Democrats can do is duck and cover. The highest priority isn't getting HCR done but rather protecting one's own behind.

I don't think that's what Obama's about. I agree with your assessment, Al, that he was being measured because he doesn't have the votes. But it's a lousy way to frame the issue. Obama goes on and on, time and again, projecting himself as a good guy, one who would never be (heaven forbid!) partisan. How many times has he taken to the airwaves to make his case to the people?

That's what Reagan did. Over and over on issues where he was seen as far right of the nation at the time. And look what happened. The nation listened and our whole political dialogue shifted right and then more right and then right again.

Just as when an 18th Century army suffered a defeat, it was really important not to cut and run in all directions -- guaranteeing slaughter, but to make a good tactical retreat, Democrats must stick together and use their heads. It would be smart to speak out loudly and clearly about Republican obstructionism. Obama should use the bully pulpit for that purpose. To expain to the people why HCR is too important to languish and too important to die. Why can't he explain, with charts and graphs, all that people stand to gain? Reagan would do that and then people would call their senators and congressmen and get them to back him up. Instead, Obama and the Democrats play into the Republican narrative again and again. "Oh gosh, we would never be disrespectful to Republicans; that wouldn't be nice. It's not like anything really important is at stake. It's not like people are dying for lack of health care coverage every day. And surely those nice Republicans are all about helping to make things better for everyone." I find this failure to make the Democratic case very frustrating.

That Village Voice headline really captured the wimpishness of our party: "Scott Brown wins Mass. race, giving GOP 41-69 majority."

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2010/01/scott_brown_...

Thank you!

This makes a lot of sense to me, as I never thought of it this way.  Seriously, I've been feeling a bit despondent and frustrated over the latest political happenings, and have been thinking of going back to the old ways (2008), where I completely avoided Politics (and Religion).  *This* close to unsubscribing from all political feeds.  While I'm still not sure if any of the grief is worth it (hell, I'm only going to live 70 years or so), maybe I can come at it from a different direction that doesn't cause so much heartache.

I can think of another

This dynamic – more than any public policy explanation – describes what happened in Massachusetts this week and why it happened.

I can think of another. How about an incompetent candidate who committed one gaffe after another? You know like running a TV ad that mispells the name of the state you are trying to get elected to. Of course if that doesn't work you can also continuously insult the sports franchise that is hallowed to many of the state citizens.

Then again if all else fails just let voters know how your really feel about having to go out and shake hands with them.

But Al you nailed this part:

And this is why we see so many preemptive screeds by the same “progressive” bloggers that have been doing the screaming out in the street all year long.

Thank you for addressing this bit of insanity. I saw it three weeks after Obama was sworn in. From April 2009 until now I've heard nothing but gloom and doom about the 2010 midterms. You know those elections which are still roughly ten months away?

Something unhealthy is in the air.

 

Daddy

Al has commented before that many progressives seem to want a Daddy figure and I'm really seeing that in a lot of the responses to the current situation. Some is purely childish ("Waa, everything is broken, Daddy Obama better come fix it now for me!") but even some of the more reasoned responses seem to want Obama to fulfill an emotional need for them or to act like an authoritarian figure who simply "lays down the law" and apparently everybody will listen and behave. It is true that Congressional Democrats seem to be acting like young children (ahem, Raul Grijalva) but nobody seems to realize how dysfunctional this is. We are all adults with the capacity to act. The Balloon Juice blog is organizing readers to call their Representatives and is compiling a roll call to determine where they stand. This is a simple practical thing that helps us find out the lay of the land and what the realistic courses of action are, and is about 100 times more useful that what most on blogs and Twitter are doing right now.

I will also repeat what I said before, you are not a leader if you just march off on your own with no one following you. For Obama to make a big show of laying down the law when nobody knows yet what can realistically be accomplished, would be foolish and counter-productive. The only reason to ask for him to do it now, in my opinion, is because it makes us feel better in some vague way.

The House and Senate leadership are the ones who need to work with their members to calm them down and to determine what can be done. Then they and Obama can work cooperatively towards achieving that.

That is what adults do to resolve their problems.

Cool

Obama has the State of the Union coming up in less than a week.  He will define the situation at that point and the road ahead.  He does not predict events; he sums up events and makes clear what we have all seen.

I received a phone call from OFA 3 days before the MA election asking me to call my Speaker Pelosi and urging her to bring the Senate Bill to the House floor for a vote.  No repeat on that call despite getting 15-20 calls for Coakley in the next three days.

I beleive that they will be bring the community organizing methods to bear on the situation.  And let me say, that the OFA efforts here in Eastern Massachusetts were very vigorous and effective.  It had its own bandwagon effect going.  A lot of people were involved and I think are now ready to go to work again.

 

A clean pivot away from Massachusetts...

Fellow friends and neighbors on the left, we've just been saved and the Scott Brown story is yesterday's news:  The Supreme Court has thrown out a hundred-year old law prohibiting corporate contributions to political campaigns, so that the biggest banks and corporations can give unlimited amounts of money to congressional, senatorial and presidential candidates -- and Obama has immediately denounced the decision:  "With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics...It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans... That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision."

It's extremely rare for a sitting president to issue such a stinging criticism of a Supreme Court decision, much less within hours of its announcement.  This gave Obama an instantaneous opportunity to pivot away from the perception that he's in the pocket of Wall Street and the banks, and get on the high ground of championing the supremacy of the people's influence on their politics, rather than the influence of special interests.  It also gives Obama's own organization a perfect rallying cry to raise the kind of money he raised last year for his own campaign, to build a war chest for Democratic candidates in the fall elections.  "Don't let the Republicans use corporate money to steal the Congress," they'll be saying.

Obama may have bailed out Wall Street and the banks to avoid a depression, but he is sure as hell not going to let them buy the Congress and bury his re-election under an avalanche of negative advertising.

If the Democrats fast-track legislation to restore the corporate prohibition (in whatever legal form threads the needle of the Supreme Court decision's language), they can use it to collapse the phony Republican attempt to look populist -- for how can Republicans be populists, if they're voting to protect the right of corporations to give hundreds of millions of dollars to them?

Father Figure?

It's not unreasonable to want one's leaders to lead. I'm not talking about "laying down the law." Yes, to do that would be counterproductive. I'm talking about using the power of one's office and one's significant oratory skills to try to convince people of the wisdom of your agenda.

We've seen little of that from Obama. He seems congenitally predisposed to "bipartisianship," which might make sense if this were 1965. But in 2010, in an environment where the opposition has made clear its intention to oppose anything and everything, one cannot let them frame the debate.

Yet that's what we've done. With an occasonal word about obstructionism here and there, we've pretty much gone along with their narratives.

Jon Stewart said it well. It's not Republicans playing chess while Democrats play checkers. It's Republicans playing chess while Democrats are in the nurses office because they've superglued their balls to their thigh again.

Whose going to make the effort to go out and campaign for a bunch of guys who won't stand up for their supposed agenda? I didn't give so much of myself to ensure their full employment. It was to get things done. To come this close on health care reform and turn away at the last moment because some bozo in Mass upset a party hack would be too pathetic for words.

@ Roy

It's pretty clear we don't see eye to eye here and are just repeating the same arguments at each other over and over. By the way, in case people missed it, Obama just proposed measures that would reinstate much of Glass-Steagall and break up banks that are too large (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/business/22banks.html?hp ). This is something that many have been saying for a year he should do. Does this look like someone who is afraid of bold action? Or like someone who shies away from his own agenda? Instead of giving up on getting financial regulation through the Senate, he's doubling down and proposing even stronger legislation. Yet hardly anyone has even noticed this today because they are so busy pointing fingers and yelling about healthcare. Pretty much proves Al's original point right there.

Laura

More than Obama, I'm speaking of Democrats as a whole. To come this close on Heath Care reform and give up would be beyond pathetic. So much so I can hardly believe they will allow it to happen. But looking out there, it seems Pelosi really can't get the votes and the Senate isn't inclined to pass a supplemental bill through reconciliation. And today Obama appears to have walked away from the issue, saying it's up to the Senate and the House now.

Yes, I'm glad Obama is taking on the banks. That's smart politics. Make Republicans defend the indefensible. Offer up Immigration Reform too; if done skillfully Obama can exploit enormous differences in the Republican coalition. But health care reform was the center of our agenda. Meaningful reform has the potential to change the political landscape going foreward, which is why the Republicans are so firmly opposed.

I've long thought Obama has the potential to be a great president. His proposals today indicate he's capable of learning. But he needs to step up and make a serious effort to keep HCR on track. Even if he fails, he's got to show significant fight on this seminal issue. But in reality, there's no way HCR should be allowed to be scuttled. Progressives in the House in particular need to step up. Raul Grijalva is my rep. I've called his office and given them an earful. It's time for those on the far side of the left to take a politically difficult vote. If they can get reconciliation through the Senate too, great. But if not, they cannot waste this opportunity to pass the Senate bill; then we can get to work on improving it over the next generation or so.

@Laura

Rep. Grijalva and members of the progressive caucus have really disappointed me, refusing to even consider passing the Senate bill is ridiculous. Pass the bill that the Senate already passed and fix what you need to through budget reconciliation, don't screw over the Party and the American people by being a bunch of babies!

 

Seriously, these guys have to wonder why liberalism has been so weak in the last 30 years...

To Field Hands

Al's analogy is apt and I appreciate his attempt to use it to help us keep our heads. And I also appreciate everyone's attempts to be and write as adults about a painful, difficult situation. However, the disappointment--not that Brown won, but President Obama's apparent deferring to this most junior senator--is great. Maybe the President doesn't have many options right now, but he's so very bright and skilled, that to hear him say, well, we'll just wait on Brown, stunned me.

I have hung in with him while he deferred to congress to work out hrc, waited the whole year. Voters don't understand why it's taken so long. Now, once again, he's done that. Of course they do have to work it out. But somehow, folks, for those of us out here in the hinterlands looking at the other huge issues that also need to pass--energy, climate change, etc, etc-- well, I have no hope for them either--not to mention mountaintop removal or support for endangered species which the President has shown zero interest in(but that was okay, I knew he had a full plate).

Now it's not okay. Not okay at all to see the first President I could call my President since JFK, the Democratic party, and national needs being destroyed by Republican delay and still he defers and asks for bipartisanship. What is going on? I don't mind being schooled. Please tell me, wtf is going on?

something really intriguing with the American voters

Al (and anyone here who would take the bother of helping a non-American understand),

What repeatedly intrigues me is what appears to be the extreme volatility of the US electorate. I mean, this is insane! In most consolidated democracies, someone who is 30% ahead in polls within weeks/months from an election is 100% sure to win, short of some apocalyptic event. In Western Europe normally when you are 5% ahead in the polls in an elections year you just need to avoid catastrophic mistakes to have it in the pocket. People are not so easily influenced to change their mind.

But throughout the 2008 primaries, and now again, I have been puzzled by the wild fluctuations in Americans' vote preferences. I understand this is a country that has been through some traumatic events in recent history, that people are a bit confused, but still... Unless polling there is for some reason much less reliable than in any other civilized country, one cannot help thinking that maybe the Americans just need some psychological therapy, en masse.

Or else what could be the explanation for such pattern of extreme volatility? I am really curious and intrigued to hear possible explanations.

Anticipated thanks!

@ Elizabeth

Elizabeth, Obama didn't say in so many words, "we'll just wait on Brown", as if he were deferring to the voters of Massaschusetts and their judgment about health care reform.  What he declined to do was to endorse the "jamming" of the health care bill through the Congress before Brown could be seated, because he knew that would be denounced effectively as manipulative politics.

It's obvious that Obama places a high value on acting in a fair-minded, rational way.  To the extent that he gives up the higher ground of a fair process in order to get something which is perceived as selfishly political, he loses the essence of who he is as a public figure, and that's a lot worse than losing a Senate seat or even one piece of legislation, however critical it may be now.  I generally agree with Andrew Sullivan, who said this today on his blog:

"My sense is that Obama understands that his core responsibility as president is not being a partisan figure. That's what he ran against in many ways. And I think he sees all this in terms of eight years. He is gambling on democracy working over time, on the president setting the general direction but allowing the Congress and the public to decide how fast and how specific they want to get. He always said he wanted to be the president of the red states and the blue states. His major problems right now are a) an apoplectic and incoherent opposition that feels it is doing something by randomly harnessing populist frustration in a recession and playing the Rovian politics which is all they know and b) a useless bunch of disorganized morons and cowards who make up the Congressional Democrats.

"But he's still by far the best thing we have going for us. And this struggle has just begun. Politics is not magic; it's not a one-off event. It's a process of grueling argument, tussling and debate. And the deeper truth is: many Independents who are ornery right now like Obama. His decency and civility and reason are plain to see. And so this is his moment as well. To be the anchor in a turbulent time and to keep making the arguments for necessary reform."

Far better to have this kind of figure presiding over a coalition for change, however bumpy the road, than a fractious, rude, divisive figure who throws away his public respect by stiff-arming everyone who disagrees with him (and if that sounds to you like a very recent unpopular predecessor of his, you're right).

From one Elizabeth to another

How would Democrats feel if a Republican Congress and President tried to ram through legislation before a duly-elected Democrat was seated?  We'd be pissed, and rightfully so.  For better or worse, MA voters selected Brown (yuck!).  To try to hurry up healthcare and/or dawdle in seating Brown is not the right thing to do.  Dems should have considered this problem during the summer when it was obvious Teddy was so sick and not taken the seat for granted.  I'll certainly fault them for that but not for doing the right thing and listening to the voters in MA.  Elections have consequences, even if we don't like them.

@ MNPundit I hear you, but it seems...

The President also feels stung by congressional Democrats' lack of conviction this entire period. Their dilly dallying and blowing his August 2009 deadline is the reason we are in this mess today. He knew time was not on our side yet they took their sweet time on this bill fighting and squabbling among themselves over parochial details. Remember that at the beginnig of President Obama's term we had theoretically only 58 votes (including Sanders & Lieberman).  Remember even Teddy Kennedy was not showing up to vote much of the time along with Robert Byrd. Then came Arlen Specters' switch in April. This reality about actual vote #s amidst the earliest signs of GOP obstructionism was the reason he courted Snowe and Collins. But progressives screamed at him for talking to these moderate Republicans, screaming which only intensified as the healthcare debate got underway.

Then Al Franken finally came along in June. At this point, I thought Teddy Kennedy should have himself resigned while he was still alive so that his seat could be filled properly ASAP. But he didn't and then Baucus blew the August deadline, Kennedy died, the Mass Governor had to do a sleight of hand to allow Kirk to come in. That change of Mass election rules to allow Kirk to serve did offend many people, but they said nothing. (We on the other hand were happy because we got what we wanted). Now those pissed off voters fueled by the teabagger drumbeat have exacted their revenge.

The point here is that it is likely President feels in no mood to coddle congressional Democrats who have done nothing to defend him from attacks, including racist teabagger attacks. They have not amplified his message anywhere in the media, have defied his deadlines, and have generally shown him no respect. Instead they have wallowed in their parochial interests gobbling up lobbyist money left and right, weakening his legislative initiatives, which collectively have made Democrats look indecisive and unruly. Why should he come to their rescue? Sure he is the party leader, but I suspect he thinks he has done a thankless job so far, and perhaps has given up on their ability to do anything useful.

It seems he will now focus on those things that he can accomplish from the executive branch alone and leave congressional Democrats to their fate as they themselves already head for the exits. It's cold but what will coddling them do to change their incorrigible behavior. Interestingly he wrote about this tendency of Democrats in his book, _Audacity of Hope_. Yeah, how ironic...

All this makes me wonder what the Democratic congresscritters were thinking their own role would be when they recruited him to run for President? What did Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer et al say to assure him that they would do their part and have his back if he won. Or did they expect him to simply provide excitement to galvanize voters  but not actually win the primaries?

Sure he has made his own mistakes but I thought the party was supposed to be a team. These congresscritters got him to run around this country in 2006 to raise huge funds for them as the so-called "star" of the party. They rode on his coattails to power in 2008 such that people who had no business winning elections, won. And how do they reward him? Crickets....

But the hue and cry over this one seat upset is being made to sound like the world has come to an end. This is more votes than we had before Arlen Specter switched sides. But right now it is just hurt, and the President too is human. We all just have to dust off this one and move on...

@ Elizabeth Duvert

"I have hung in with him while he deferred to congress to work out hrc, waited the whole year."

You may have noticed that Obamas strategy got him farther with the health care bill that Clinton managed to achieve - who very much pushed his/her bill on congress.

If Obama pushes bipartisanship it is because he thinks his agenda is easier to manage this way (and btw pushing bipartisanship is not exactly the same as being bipartisan and that is not the same as compromising with the Republicans)

Focus-pocus

 

The most demanding, painful thing to do on oneself is to channel emotional energy in a time of stress. In life, in Politics, you forsake this primal call upon yourself at your own peril.

The left cannot keep it simple. They feel independent, above and beyond. That is their default position before and after either Victory or Defeat. The deeply rooted presumption of innocence bears eternal grudges toward the inevitable party crashers.

Victory is cleansing when it should be fulfilling, Defeat is nihilism when it should be realism. Cause without effect.

The right cannot but keep it simple. They feel righteous, out of their wits and within their wrights. That is their default position before and after either Victory or Defeat. They believe and so they believe. Victory is fulfilling when it should be cleansing, Defeat is realism when it should be nihilism. Effect without cause.

Groundswell for Groundswell, neither Victory nor Defeat shall ever lead me astray. Cause and Effect.

 

moveon response

what do people think about moveon's response?

looks like the they will running adds that push for the use of reconciliation, and push for the public option. they site polls showing the house in the middle folks were by in large down with the public option. they want to leverage this loss to push for stronger health care. i support this endevour. seems like sound strategic action.

If i am reading the post right, i think al would disagree. would be curious to know if i'm reading it right. Thoughts on this?

 

waiting on Brown

Obviously a lot of people are really upset about that (though you might want to read the full context) - but, um folks, we can't do anything right now even if Brown was already seated. The House Democratic caucus appears to be in meltdown, the Senate Democratic caucus is frozen, I suppose. I actually agree with Al about the really bad politics that forcing it through would be - but that is not on the table right now even if we wanted to do it! There is no harm in saying that (Brown will be sworn in within a week or two) when there is nothing else we can do anyway.

The reason we cannot move forward right now is CONGRESS. Not Obama. Until Congressional Democrats get their acts together, we are stuck. Instead of constantly yelling at the guy who has a thousand other things to be doing, why not yell at the people whose job this is and who are not doing it.

The left has a real fetish on executive power sometimes, to the point of not blaming Congress when it deserves the blame.

There's more than one dysfunctional family

Agreed, yelling and screaming from the Poutrage Club is enough to put anyone off their feed. But do Bandwagon voters even know who Hamsher, Sirota, Greenwald, etc. are? Not if they get their news from network TV, or the five-minute doses at the top of the hour on AM radio. The dysfunction such voters will most have witnessed these many months will have been that of the Senate, with the endless delays coming from the Democrats or those who caucus with them (a Nelson there, a Lincoln or Landrieu there, a Lieberman everywhere). As for the House, I'll bet that the antics of a Bart Stupak (who even sounds like a character from The Simpsons) registered more than those of the aforementioned poutragers and ragerettes. In short, had the legislation been wrapped up in August, as Obama had hoped, more Bandwagon voters might have found the house on the left more fun to visit.

@ Lucidamente

Lucidamente - True, that Mr. and Mrs. Independent don't know any of the B-listers. But when Howard Dean wrote his Washington Post "kill the bill" op ed column, when Paul Krugman did a half year worth of concern trolling NY Times columns on economic matters, when Keith Olbermann went on rant after rant on MSNBC... etcetera... you can bet it emanated much farther outward.

There is a kind of symbiotic parasitical relationship between the B-listers and their Sacred Cow media pundit heroes who, not having much original to say themselves, can get a quick jump in attention to them by pandering to the Poutrage Club. They swim in the same cesspool.

Let me also add to that list

Arianna Huffington and Ed Schultz and the rest of the rent-a-talking-heads for cable news programs.

It is so obvious what should be done

Both politically and on the merits, it seems beyond debate to me that the House should just pass the Senate bill as is, and then seek to improve it by another bill through reconciliation.  I suppose we might get to the same place by passing individual pieces of legislation, one by one, but the essential point is the same:

Pass what you can, and what you can better include at least what was in the senate bill.

The suggestions by people in the House that they might actually do less is infuriating and so absurd that I literally cannot believe it will occur.

Irony

Thank goodness we can always count on Al for some common sense. It's funny the 'progressives' shouting Obama is a failure or Democrats are weak or useless do not see the irony. It's only them that panic and throw up their arms in defeat every time they see a headline they don't like.

Waiting for Brown and pushing reconciliation

I'm not advocating either way, but I want to point out that waiting for Brown to arrive and pushing the bill with a public option through reconciliation are not mutually exclusive.

The failure to organize Democrats in the Congress

Laura, you're right about the culpability of Democrats in Congress for the present plight of health care reform legislation, although one wonders about the role of Rahm Emmanuel in all of this.  He was supposed to be Barack's Enforcer and Harmonizer of all things House-related at least, while Obama's former Senate office chief of staff (well-liked in the Senate) was to keep the Senate humming.  That hasn't exactly worked out.

The White House strategy on health care reform seemed to be to coddle members of Congress individually and endlessly, letting them take months to make up their minds about various provisions and revise their demands, and cut new deals with them to get this in or that out, as if they were all volatile teenagers whose acquiescence to household momentum had to be continually renegotiated.  The essentials of health care reform were in place in the early fall, long before Scott Brown was more than a slight contrail on the horizon.  But my sense is that the White House people who are supposed to manage the Congress were entirely too complacent or even hands-off -- just as the White House political people (Axelrod and company) allowed the Republicans to dominate the public debate with lies and distortions.  When did the polls peak for health care reform?  Early September, just after Obama had been on the road for a good deal of August, pushing it hard.  Then Obama turned to other things.  Why?  Perhaps because he wasn't told that it was a bad idea to acquiesce to congressional Democrats' way of doing business, when it came to wrapping up the legislation.

I certainly hope that one of the lessons the White House learns is that they do need to enforce the president's agenda without taking their foot off the accelerator, and keep the public in the game.  When you lose control of public perceptions, and you defer to congressional business-as-usual, you get the result we've gotten:  standing on the brink of failure, with health care reform.

Though I agree that progressives overrate the ability of a president to control the game clock, the sustained animation of a president on behalf of what he believes in passionately is read by the public as admirable conviction, and that's a big reason why such presidents get things done.  As much as I admire Barack Obama and still think the odds are that his presidency will be successful, I sometimes wonder if he's too ready to take at face value others' representations that everything is going fine.  We forget he's still a rookie at the inside game.  But he's smart enough to recognize now, I hope, that the end game on health care reform should never have been coat-checked with Reid and Pelosi.

 

I had to escape

I had to escape the sky is falling this is all Obama's fault crowd.  Trying to reason with people who feel that screaming and outrage are good tactics in achieving their objectives can get tiring to say the least.

Months and months of hearing how terrible the HCR bills are can begin to grate on even those of us who believe that they are a definite improvement on the status quo.   Days and days of lecturing about what hasn't been done yet take their toll, and the minute to minute polling has begun to turn my head grey.  I expected this from the right but when this comes from the left it is demoralizing.

Mr. Brown rode the perfect storm into Washington and he was aided and abetted to some degree by the relentless hue and cry from some of the people I thought were my allies.  Oh and don't forget this, although it doesn't account for most of the votes he received, Brown has the earnest demeanor and good looks of the boy next door, there is still a segment of the population that can be convinced to vote for the packaging.

 

Just musing about elephants

Question: I haven't seen it, but maybe it exists .... is there any poll of how the unemployed voted, and at what percentage they voted?

Given we're at nearly 10 percent admitted unemployed nationally [higher in relative pockets geographically], and even higher when you count those not being counted, and even higher among minorities, it seems it would be worth polling those folks.

If they aren't voting, and I have this suspicion they're not, or at least the drop-off in voting in that group is high relative to when they were employed ... then someone needs to organize them.

If they are voting in higher numbers than prior to their displacement, then someone still needs to organize them.

I just think that's the 2 ton elephant in the room here, and it was let in the room before Obama ever got in office.

The other group hooking up with the Flanders family, the bandwagon folks, I suspect are the still employed who are just fricken scared, and likely don't out number the actual unemployed ... and are now flocking to the Flanders because their fire-and-brimstone politics is so much more comforting in times of uncertainty, especially when the alternative is liberal self-doubt.

I have no science to prove these suppostions, just street-level conversations.

The Messaging Elephant in the Room

ThisI something that only recently Democrats have begun to address-and apparently not enough. The Republicans have a full-time messaging machine that creates a message that  Republican legislators can run on. We Democrats expect our full-time legislators to do that while somehow governing as well, and are complaining loudly that they don't do that very well. Instead, why don't we strengthen Media Matters into a full-time support system, and get some liberal clergy out, and buy a few radio stations, and at least have an internet radio station?

The DNC should at least have it's messaging group with an Internet radio presence. NORML at least broadcasts on internet radio and reaches the rest of the world with its message, why can't the DNC have its own radio station? It's own message machine?

Another elephant in the room is that the state level Democrats have yet to really be reformed in states that have pretty much a one-party Democratic majority. The hackery can be profound sometimes-a candidate who runs or is run simply because they happen to be "their turn", or the please the powers that be-who may not be in touch with the voting public.

About running Prosecutors-I read that Coakley actively opposed and tried to subvert Massachusetts's law that effectively dropped marijuana penalties down to a $100 fine and also opposed medical marijuana. To me that speaks of an imperious attitude insensitive to the needs and wants of voters, especially younger voters whose first contact with the police is the "war on drugs" or more importantly the "war on weed smoking citizens".  The War on Drugs and the self-righteousness it engenders due to mandatory minimums and such make for a group of people who simply aren't held to account even in the court of law, much less public opinion.

So Coakley felt there was nothing amiss in taking a two week vacation in the midst of a crucial Senate Campaign. BTW, this seems to me to be a New England trait: I remember Dukakis taking two weeks off right after being nominated, and Lamont taking off for a week-long vacation right after being nominated. What is it that they tell their candidates about that? Yes, people need a rest, but folks try to at least keep it down to a weekend at best or 48 hours of sleep in a hotel room somewhere instead.

Too bad zoning regulations only allow three houses per street.

I mean really shouldn't there be more bandwagon possibilites. Of course there should. So rezoning is needed. Wait there are other houses on the block but the zoining rules don't allow them to have parties. Poor bandwagon voters, only two choices to choose from at party time.

But that's the reality and if you want to have any fun thems your choices.

A slogan for the times

Somehow this song seems appropriate for the moment — for those in the poutrage class needing a dose of common sense along with a bit of insight into the beat of the common folk:

"Don't sink the boat you built to keep afloat." — Flogging Molliesy

 

Spot on as usual.

Thanks

I've never agreed with Krugman before

But he's 100% right in his latest oped, which needs to be read by every democrat in congress and their staff:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/opinion/22krugman.html

@Al

Not to belabor the point: BooMan makes an argument similar to mine at

http://www.boomantribune.com/story/2010/1/22/02812/2869

Of course, the screaming mimis you cite have a huge share of the blame.

A final point: it also seems to me that Bandwagon voters are attracted to the other house because it is "safe" as well as fun. Republicans have long played the fear card like virtuosi--vote for us or die in a terror attack because the Democrats are too soft (e.g., they arrested the underwear bomber instead of sending him to Gitmo, a talking point that Senator-Elect Brown used against Coakley).

 

The People, take one:

 

The theater of War for now must shift entirely to the Congress procedural Front. Forget about the American Electorate for the foreseeable future, and think essentially about the objective welfare of the American People. Get a Healthcare legislation through Congress by all means necessary and do it quickly.
The narrative tilts otherworldly and panicky; no word of wisdom will get through to the Electorate. When one does not control the entry points of the Political and Social discourse, decisive actions must then matter above all else. Defensive posturing, contrite dovetailing will simply drive nails in your coffin.
Here you have two pieces of legislation being reconciled into a single piece for final passage in the House and for closure and final passage in the Senate. Reconciliation has now become an exercise in futility, obviously. Henceforth, you have to pick the integrality of one over the other. Which one...

The House version is more 'progressive' as apprehended in a global perspective but extremely flawed, even dangerous in terms of women's wrights. Can it survive a vote in the Senate? It cannot cut through a Super Majority but how about fifty plus one, if it came down to that, could they pull it off on the basis of a tie breaking legally defensible Vice-Presidential intervention on the Floor?
The senate version is admittedly 'conservative' and more balanced on the whole. Can it get a pass on a simple majority vote on the Floor of the House ? Unless Nancy Pelosi pulled a rabbit with more than two ears out of her hat, the lemon has been squeezed dry already... Pulp fiction rests its case, then what ?
I say round up fifty brave Senators, make them shut their eyes, pinch their nose and, ear plugs on, throw that game saving three pointer at the mayhem. Let the Vice drive healthcare with prejudice to the hissing half. Let Joe take one for the President and then, Organize for the fall-outs like our lives depended on it!
Let us get control over our own narrative with an objective and concrete Victory for the American People, and then proceed onto the ensuing subjective fury on a solid footing; the People vs special interests and hidden agendas is the only game in town!

 

Crossposted to DKos

Here.

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About Al Giordano

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Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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