It’s been entertaining watching American public “discourse” since the election. (I use that word in its broadest, most ridiculous sense, since nothing that hinges so completely on self-absorption, rank ignorance and pathological dishonesty can be accurately characterized by such a noble word. But indulge me. I’ve been working on my irony lately.)
On the one hand you have conservatives fainting dead away that we’re now in the clutches of a “socialist” president. Never mind that these folks wouldn’t know a real socialist if he was gnawing their balls off. Never mind that most of these folks think “socialist” is the French word for Negro. Never mind that Obama demonstrably is to socialism what Joe the Plumber is to brie-sucking Northeastern intellectualism. As arch-conservative TV pundit Stephen Colbert says, “this is a fact-free zone.”
On the other you have the righteous outrage of the progressosphere, which feels six different kinds of betrayed by a president who promised them the moon and stars and has now left them to what looks like at least a four-year walk of shame. If I might borrow from an old fraternity joke, imagine the following scene from the Oval Office:
Barack: Hey everybody, what’s the difference between a progressive and a toilet?
Rahm: I give up, Mr. President.
Barack: The toilet doesn’t follow you around after you use it.
[Entire Cabinet]: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!
A few days ago Chris Bowers, one of the progressive blogosphere’s smarter and more influential voices, announced that he was becoming a conservative Democrat. His reasoning was compelling. Let me sample a bit for you (and encourage you to go read the rest as soon as you’re done here).
You can “endorse someone other than a Democrat for President, and then have the Democratic leadership do whatever it takes” to keep you in the Party. “You get ten times the media mentions that one gets being a progressive.” You get “more money, too. You can proclaim that you are a conservative Democrat, and still have small, progressive, grassroots donors be by far your top contributors.” You can “hold up, water down, and threaten whatever Democratic legislation you want” with no consequences at all. “You get frequent meetings with the President and proclamations that he is one of your own.” If you bitch about it you get “threats about never hearing from the White House again.” You’re “far more likely to receive a major cabinet appointment. Not even counting the Republicans, New Democrats outnumber Progressives in President Obama’s cabinet by 7-1.” And that’s not nearly all.
Okay, so maybe Bowers isn’t really abandoning his fellow progressives. Maybe he was just being a smart-ass to make a point. I can’t say I approve of such tactics, but hey, my old pal Jonathan Swift was known for the occasional snark, so who am I to judge?
The point is that progressives have a beef with the new fauxcialist administration, and regardless of what you think about their issues, their analysis or their personal hygiene, a review of the facts certainly justifies their pique. Think about it.
- Obama the Campaigning Man was pretty clear in his disdain for the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama the President has apparently decided that gay rights can wait. (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell? Don’t bother.)
- Candidate Obama was balls-to-the-wall about greening the economy, and I mean yesterday. President Obama, whose favorability rating is running better than 2-1 for, seemed unable or unwilling to expend some of that political capital on the just passed ACES bill, which many experts think will accomplish diddley (or worse). (Again, whatever the eventual reality about this bill turns out to be is irrelevant – the point is that Obama did not act in accordance with the more progressive stance he had taken earlier.)
- And what about health care? A recent New York Times/CBS News poll showed overwhelming support for “a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans.” How overwhelming, you ask? Overall 72% were in favor of the “public option,” and 57% said they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to get it. Hell, 50% of Republican respondents want it. So, you have very high approval ratings. And you certainly have a significantly greater mandate than George the Conqueror did after nipping John Kerry in 2004. You have significant majorities in both houses of Congress. You have overwhelming popular support for a public option. And you can’t get it done? Seriously?
I’m sitting here trying to figure out why corporate America, which would stand to benefit tremendously from having the burden of insuring the citizenry lifted from its shoulders, isn’t in open revolt. (That part of corporate America that doesn’t include the insurance industry, I mean.)
It has been observed that the Republicans seem to be more effective with a minority than the Dems are when they have the entire country by the balls. GOPpers derail the train by threatening a filibuster, but the Democrats can’t seem to head off a bad idea with a damned-near buster-proof majority. How the hell is this possible?
This, of course, is what’s known as a “rhetorical question.” The butt-obvious answer is that the contemporary Democratic Party is not really a party, at least not in the same way that the GOP is. Instead, it’s a bizarre amalgam of progressives, “moderates,” bipartisan fetishists, “New Democrats,” DINOs and opportunistic Republicans (see Specter, Arlen). The median at present lies significantly to the right of Richard Nixon, who despite the recent revelation that he was in favor of abortion in the case of half-breed fetuses, posted a record that would make him pretty darned progressive by 2009 standards. (Good thing you dodged that bullet, huh Mr. President?)
Ultimately, Bowers and other frustrated progressives are right. The Democratic party just isn’t that into them. They’re useful when votes are needed, but are utterly incapable of leveraging that into actual influence. As far as the “responsible” centrists are concerned, progressives are the late-date with no self-esteem, the unwitting fat chick at the pig party.
So, what to do?
Playing along isn’t working. So how about rounding up all the members of the Progressive Caucus (and their many allies around the country) and opting out? Leave the Democractic Party. Form a third party of their own (or just join the Greens). All of a sudden the Democratic Party has a numbers problem. All of a sudden they lose majority status, chairmanships, agenda-setting stroke, etc.
I’m no expert on the rules of the American legislature, so I’m sure there are nuances I’m missing. Nonetheless, I imagine the Republican wing of the Democratic Party would wet itself. And in the short term this could be very good for the GOP, which would find itself in the plurality.
Longer-term, though, it seems like the progressives can make an argument – and one that is supported by some actual evidence – that they represent the will of a goodly slice of the American public. Even better, given how the youth vote seems to be trending, they can also argue that their hand is going to strengthen over time. Are these premises accurate? Hard to say. But they are testable hypotheses, and the posit is certainly plausible enough to be worth examining.
Maybe the remaining Dems respond by making the reality of the situation official and decamping for the GOP. Maybe the Blue Dogs and the “moderate” wing of the GOP abandon those pesky snake-handlers on the right and form a new “centrist” coalition. Who knows. If that did happen, however, America would at least have the refreshing luxury of an opposition party that, you know, opposed. We could get all that corporatist DC clutter, which thrives because it dominates both parties, up for a real referendum. What a campaign hook – America vs. the Beltway.
Part of me says “what if it backfires?” But the other part of me looks at the state of the current union, at the looting of the last eight (or, depending on your taste for the long view, 29) years, at the energy way too many Americans have to devote to worrying about what happens if they get sick or injured, at the staggering cost associated with continuing to fuck around with the environment, at the fact that millions and millions and millions of citizens have no hope at all of financial solvency, at the knee-buckling stupidity of a populace that’s been victimized by a brilliantly conceived War on Education, at…. Fuck it. You get the picture.
Off your knees, progressives. The worst that happens is more of the same. At the least do us the favor of dying on your feet.