Events, New Realities, and the Right Attitude

Now is the time for all good people to stiffen the spines of the Democratic Party — both before and after the election.

Apparently there’s been some hand-wringing about Josh Marshall’s piece published last night entitled “Events Create New Realities.”  Is he giving up on the midterms?  Well, no, but Josh has a crucial point to make:

How well will Democrats stand up to the headline that says Republicans win 50 House seats?

And remember, it won’t be “Republicans win 50 House Seats.”

The headline will read “Angry Country Repudiates Obama Agenda, Embraces Small Government Conservative Values.” And that will be the Times. Believe me, it won’t be pretty.

In any case, a lot of folks are thinking, well, sure the Republicans take the House and maybe they even take the Senate. But Obama’s got the veto pen and the big legislation has already been pushed through. And if they come after Social Security, c’mon, let them try: Obama can veto whatever they pass. And they’ll kill themselves for 2012.

But all of this is based on the premise that the Democrats — congressional leaders and the White House — are going to be something like the same people on November 3rd as they were on November 1st. And a lot of painful history, the post-Scott Brown victory period being only the most recent example, says that’s a very bad assumption.

Josh is right.  It is a very bad assumption.  Blue Blogistan and loyal Democrats, however, can make a difference here.

This is going to be a very ugly midterm.   But it will be even uglier if Democrats buy into what will surely be the inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom: America’s voters have rejected progressivism, it’s a conservative country, and — most maddeningly — the Dems took it on the chin because they went “too far to the left.”

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein, in one of those necessary takedowns of Matt Bai, said it the best:

It’s not complicated at all: Obama’s approval ratings have fallen because the economy stinks.  End of story.  Anything else is on the margins…and it’s certainly possible that everything else is pushing his ratings up, not down.  

The same is true for Democrats generally.  That means the last thing we want to do is start getting into a defensive crouch, setting up yet another round of interminable “Rethinking Liberalism” conferences, wondering where we “went wrong,” or why we’re “not connecting.”  The economy stinks.  End of story.

Or maybe not even that.  The economy stinks because (to extend Bernstein’s scatology) the Republicans put it in the toilet.  Their policies failed.  As Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhardt have demonstrated in their recent superb book, financial crises take a very long time to shake out, particularly because of the key role the financial system plays in directing investment through the economy.  Combine that with historic gains in the last two cycles, many of them in Reddish areas, and you have the recipe for a bad cycle.  But a bad cycle does not equal rejection.  It’s just a bad cycle.

This Congress has accomplished a tremendous amount of good: the stimulus, student loan reforms, financial reform, and of course the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act.  If it hadn’t been for the Senate, there would have also been historic climate legislation, a bigger stimulus, stronger support for higher education (particularly community colleges), and probably a much stronger economy.  There is nothing for Democrats to be ashamed of.

If the predictions from the polls come true, our tasks will be 1) keeping Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic Leader (if she wants the job); 2) stiffening the President’s spine (which from his excellent statement today on the Bush tax cuts, seems to be in decent shape); and 3) continuing to fight in the trenches for important things, like making sure ACA implementation proceeds, blocking GOP gerrymandering, and attacking conservative talking points.  I’ll have more to say more on these in due course, but we cannot do any of these things if we wake up on November 3rd in some sort of ideological stupor, cowed by right-wing browbeating, and lacking the courage of our convictions.

Fight like hell the next two months.  Give money when you can.  Here’s an excellent place to start.  But most of all, let leading Democrats know that they must not back down, no matter what happens.  The country, and the world, depend on them getting this message.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

18 thoughts on “Events, New Realities, and the Right Attitude”

  1. I'm pretty sanguine about losing some Blue Dog house members. I don't see that they did much good when the chips were down anyway. And given the reception I got when I called the campaign office of a Blue Dog I did GoTV work for in 2006 about legislation to overturn Citizens United. His staffer said I shouldn't be "fucking wasting time" with meaningless legislation, we should be making calls to help Democrats in the fight of their lives.

    In response I said that by his staff cursing at me, a former volunteer and constituent, and he was alienating his base and would reap the whirlwind. By not being accountable to his former volunteers and constituents his campaign was certainly not generating good will and additional volunteer work.

    I will be volunteering for some politicians this year. And I think that a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate is possible. I'm looking forward to Nate Silver doing his House race predictions, as I suspect the odds will be better than even the House does not change hands.

    The vaunted enthusiasm gap seems likely to change to me. And there's some risk that the early strength of Republicans will result in complacency in the latter part of the campaign season – they'll know they're going to take the house and feel they don't need to make calls, etc.

  2. "If it hadn’t been for the Senate…."

    And if it hadn't been for gravity cows could've flown and I wouldn't have had to buy manure for my garden.

    Come on. This is supposed to be The Reality-Based Community. The Senate exists primarily to protect the prerogatives of the prevailing power structure. The Democratic Party is, at the very least, complicit in preserving the status quo. In some respects they are out Republican-ing the Republicans.

    "There is nothing for Democrats to be ashamed of."

    Except for, you know, this.

  3. Jonathan, what makes you think the president has a spine to stiffen? I have no doubt about Nancy Pelosi, but please enlighten me about all those times Obama has stood up to his enemies, and more importantly our enemies, and not backed down without a fight. Aside from the Lily Ledbetter Act I am at a loss. And don't come back with ACA, as you call it. It doesn't really kick in until 2014 when the crisis is now. And without the "public option" the president promised during his bait-and-switch campaign ACA will be no such thing. Here are the faithless deal breakers for me, in no particular order:

    Obama puts Larry Summers in charge of the economy.

    Obama reappoints Ben Bernanke.

    Obama says Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein are "savvy businessmen."

    Obama puts health care in the hands of Max Baucus; health care reform becomes nothing of the sort.

    Obama gets squishy on DADT.

    Obama appoints Alan Simpson to the Catfood Commission and then leaves him there after he mouths off. Repeatedly.

    Obama says no one will privatize Social Security on his watch, which is one of the most blatant straw men in political history.

    Obama says no one can deny that George W. Bush supported our troops.

    Obama mouthpiece Bobby Gibbs says that people like me need to be drug tested.

    I have been voting for Democrats since 1974 as exemplars of the "left wing of the possible" in the words of my political mentor, the late, great Michael Harrington. I can't really see that it has done much good, win or lose.

  4. You're correct. I think I will have the courage of my convictions and vote left of the Democrats the time. I am no longer scared of the "but the Republicans will be worse, you'll see!" people.

  5. Great post. I think that quote from Bernstein is perfect. The main complaints are TARP, the stimulus, ACA, in that order. The first was the last administration, and perfectly reasonable solution considering the situation. The second was a solidly Keynesian, mainstream solution, and one that saved a lot of good people from a lot of hurt. The third was something most Americans probably don't understand, and won't pay much attention to, unless they happen to have been uninsurable.

    Bottom line: if the economy was rolling again, none of this would be on the table in any serious way. The anger is real, in that no one seems to have any real solutions to the economy, but the specific grievances against Democrats & Obama are shibboleths.

  6. Eli wrote:

    "Bottom line: if the economy was rolling again, none of this would be on the table in any serious way. The anger is real, in that no one seems to have any real solutions to the economy, but the specific grievances against Democrats & Obama are shibboleths."


    BUT everyone and their brother could see this coming. It was a no-brainer to see this coming from the opposition party. Utter, complete, absolute no-brainer. No thought required. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Yet the majority party hasn't a clue how to respond. Again. For the 44th election in a row. And we will take two steps back come November if the majority party continues to fail to figure out a simple, elementary problem.

    Then again, maybe we DO get the leadership we deserve.

  7. To echo what Dan Staley said to Eli: Indeed. But had Obama fought in any significant, palpable, visible, and public manner for what he campaigned on, but lost these battles due to GOP intransigence and cupidity, we (those millions of us, young, old, and in-between who elected him) would be preparing to provide him with majorities that could wipe the GOP in its current incarnation literally off the political map. Instead I am afraid that we are about to reap a vicious and potentially mortal whirlwind sowed by his bait-and-switch campaign. This is all his doing. Period. He had a chance, but was not up to it for whatever reason. Alas.

  8. Agreed KLG and true about fighting, save for the "bait-and-switch campaign. This is all his doing" part.

  9. This isn't "a conservative country", it is a plutocracy, and your vote doesn't really matter. Obama has simply confirmed Bush policy in every respect, every detail, from torture and secrecy claims to the bank bailouts, from Iraq and Afganistan to re-appointing Ben Bernanke.

    You can complain about the Left, in tiny numbers, voting for Nader in 2000, but they didn't count the votes in that election, either; it was decided by the Republican caucus of the Supreme Court on the basis of a Fox News projection. Democracy in America has been foreclosed, by the simple expedient of having both political parties front the same arbitrary, oppressive policies.

    Speculating about what might have been, had the economy recovered is silly, unless you can clearly see that the economy we have is the one chosen for us by Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress — larger majorities than the Republicans have ever had in the last 50 years. Nothing about Obama's economic policies give any indication that they are aimed at anything, but preserving the banks at all costs, and driving down wages.

    I'll vote in November, out of long habit and a sense of vestigial civic obligation, but I don't expect to find any choice on the ballot worth making.

    Thanks to Reagan-Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, the U.S. is spiraling into an economic decline, bereft of honor or decency. We're a country that creates high unemployment for its workers, protects its criminal elite from prosecution, perpetuates pointless and costly wars, tortures prisoners, and lies about everything.

    I won't vote for the Tea Party Republicans, but they represent the kind of government America richly deserves.

  10. "You can complain about the Left, in tiny numbers, voting for Nader in 2000, but they didn’t count the votes in that election, either; it was decided by the Republican caucus of the Supreme Court on the basis of a Fox News projection. "

    I call BS. Florida was within the margin of error of voting technology. The Supreme court didn't cause that. They just ruled on what the Florida courts could do in response to it. They didn't make Gore lose his home state, without which Florida wouldn't have mattered.

    The voting certainly did matter that year, for all that Democrats wanted to keep throwing the dice until they got an outcome they liked.

    Now, you want me to actually believe you treasure the right to vote? Let's hear some complaints about the Obama administration telling a bunch of states they can disenfranchise military voters.

  11. Brett, you can't just put an accusation up without an actual link. My first instinct is that your accusation is yet another ginned up controversy where Fox News is ignoring some important caveat about something.

  12. And yes, the Supreme Court did prevent an ongoing count, and precluded any sensible remedy of starting a new count because the clock had expired.

    I'll ignore the invective about dice rolling.

  13. >> the Obama administration telling a bunch of states they can disenfranchise military voters <<

    Arab-funded noise machine disinformation campaigns notwithstanding, that Bruce Wilder rant is one that I wish I had (mostly) written.

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