Monday, November 2, 2009

Wrong Lessons

The Age of Obama will be remembered as an age of missed opportunities. Team Obama is missing another one right now -- by not using the illegitimacy of Afghanistan’s Bush installed Karzai government as an excuse for a “strategic retreat,” saving countless lives and billions of dollars, while diminishing homeland insecurity in the process. With the cancellation this morning of the planned November 7 election re-run -- after Karzai’s only rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew -- the illegitimacy of the corrupt and now out of control Karzai regime has become blindingly obvious. Nevertheless, the best we can hope for from Obama is that he will not increase troop levels -- withdrawal being “off the table, along with so many other morally urgent and politically expedient measures and policies.

The Age of Obama will also be remembered as a time when ostensibly right-thinking pundits drew all the wrong lessons from developments on the political scene. Witness the reaction to the sudden withdrawal, also this weekend, of Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava from the race to represent New York’s 23rd Congressional District in tomorrow’s election. Whether or not the Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, beats the Democrat, Bill Owens, the conventional wisdom is that the contest was a battle for the soul of the Republican Party – between broad tent “moderates” and crazed tea-baggers – and that the latter won. The lesson drawn: that if the GOP doesn’t put the tea-baggers in their place – turning them back into useful idiots, not lords and masters – they will not come back into power any time soon because the only way to win general elections in most jurisdictions (New York’s 23rd being a possible exception) is to run to the center.

This has long been the unjustified and patently false belief of the movers and shakers of the Lesser Evil Party, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity; and it is advice Obama has taken wholeheartedly on board. It is why right-wing Democrats, so-called Blue Dogs (a designation demeaning both to dogs and the color blue), are running the show.

Let me be clear: Scozzafava supported Obama’s insufficient but still useful stimulus package, and her positions on gay and reproductive rights are in the American mainstream; this is all to the good. Hoffman, on the other hand, is, to put it mildly, morally and intellectually “challenged.” In the race to the bottom, Scozzafava therefore beats Hoffman, just as some (not all!) Blue Dog Democrats beat Scozzafava, the “moderate” Republican. Let me be clear too: lesser evilism has its place. Except in cases where going for the lesser evil (in the short-run) is likely to make outcomes worse (in the middle- or long-run), it is obviously wise to opt for the lesser, not the greater, evil.

But it does not therefore follow that running to the center, as Democrats do and as mainstream columnists and the talking heads of cable news (Fox excepted) think Republicans should, is anything to applaud. Quite the contrary. Running to the center is what has given us the race to the bottom now being conspicuously played out in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. The electoral contest there does have much to teach “progressives.” But the right lesson is emphatically not the one that the generators and sustainers of conventional wisdom draw.

The lesson is that there is no more need for progressives to suffer Blue Dogs or, for that matter, Pelosiites intent on taking opportunities “off the table,” than there is for tea-baggers, birthers, deathers and other assorted looney-tunes to suffer “moderate” Republicans. All it takes is mobilization at the base and support from a few nationally recognized party figures.

What the Lesser Evil Party has instead is a largely demobilized base – thank the lingering effects of Obamamania for that! – and “progressive” leaders who, notwithstanding some conspicuous displays of courage in the on-going struggles over health insurance reform, are loathe to do anything that might put their role as “players” in jeopardy. Thus the race to the bottom continues. Indeed, its pace has accelerated since Obama took office -- driven now by the inmates who run the asylum the GOP has become and by the increasing disillusionment of Obama voters,as it becomes clearer, day by day, how the “change” so many thought they had voted for isn’t happening on his watch.

Would, therefore, that the Democratic base were more like the Republicans’. Depraved as the tea-baggers et. al. may be, there is actually something to learn from them: that it is not necessary for voters to remain helpless spectators while the people they vote for – most of whom are just feckless followers of their parties’ paymasters -- treat their interests and beliefs with contempt.

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