"Center-Right Nation" - Election Day Watch

by: David Sirota

Tue Nov 04, 2008 at 11:06


William Galston, one of the ideological leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council, takes election day today to write a piece in the New Republic insisting that a President Obama should ignore his own voters and abandon most of his big progressive campaign promises because America - no matter what happens on election day, no matter what the polls on issues say - will always be a center-right nation:
David Sirota :: "Center-Right Nation" - Election Day Watch
The not-so-good news is that expectations are sky-high and that some of his supporters will press him to throw caution to the wind and emulate FDR's first 100 days, or LBJ's feverish legislative pace in 1965 and 1966. This is a temptation Obama would do well to resist. Despite today's crisis environment, there are economic and political limits to government activism that the president-elect will ignore at his peril...

The more ambitious the agenda, the more likely it is to fall victim to entrenched political realities, and failing to strike a workable balance between ambition and political feasibility would invite a repetition of the 1994 mid-term disaster that left Bill Clinton on the defensive for the remainder of his presidency.

Galston joins Doug Schoen and Mark Penn in forwarding two pernicious memes. The first is the Dirty Fucking Hippie meme, cloaked in the declaration that "some of his supporters will press him to throw caution to the win." That is, those who support Obama are crazy leftists who a President Obama, if he is Serious, must ignore.

The second meme is the "Bill Clinton Initially Failed Because He Tried to Govern Like a Marxist" story. This is used as the basis to claim that history proves Obama must tack to the hard right if he wins.

Of course, the real story is what a Republican corporate lobbyist told the Politico yesterday:

He recalled the arrival of President Bill Clinton in 1993. Rather than going after business, Clinton presented a moderate image and reached out to the corporate community.

Clinton's goal was to "co-opt a portion of the business community" through his positions on free trade and other issues, said this lobbyist. And the strategy worked pretty effectively with global corporations.

That's what actually happened - Clinton did exactly what Galston and his fellow conservatives want Obama to do: He tacked to the corporate right with things like NAFTA, demoralized his base, and then his party got crushed in the mid-term elections, crippling the rest of his presidency.

The same thing could happen to a President Obama if he follows that path. But as we've seen over the last two weeks, there is building pressure on him to follow that path. Indeed, just this morning on Fox News, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) said the most important thing for a President Obama to do is appease McCain voters.

Fingers crossed for the election tonight - but even more work starts tomorrow, should we win.


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If, So, The Most Important Thing For Democrats To Do Is Primary Claire McCaskill (4.00 / 5)
Indeed, just this morning on Fox News, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) said the most important thing for a President Obama to do is appease McCain voters.

The logic is identical, actually.  Do the opposite of what the election results say.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


I seem to remember (0.00 / 0)
Republicans talking about working across party aisles during the 2000 campaign and the subsequent recount. Of course, that was all just talk and they didn't mean it.

I don't think McCaskill really means it either -- it's just happy talk. Is she really going to water down the Lily Ledbetter Act to appease McCain voters? Yeah right.


[ Parent ]
I hope you're right (0.00 / 0)
When I see FOXNews and appease McCain voters in the same sentence, I get very nervous for our progressive agenda!

[ Parent ]
Is she out of her mind? (4.00 / 1)
Until now, I haven't had a particularly strong opinion of McCaskill. I know many hate her for the way she handled FISA. On the other hand, I've heard people say she's been one of Obama's best surrogates. After what she said on FOX News, I have to conclude that she might be useless.

It's one thing to talk about uniting the country. It's quite another to suggest that Obama appease people who probably disagree with him on every single issue facing this country. I didn't expect her to say he should appease progressives, but her statement is beyond the pale. I've heard people suggest her for the Cabinet and VP 2012 or 2016. She's lucky if she gets to keep her Senate seat.  


[ Parent ]
McCaskill... (0.00 / 0)
...the Ellen Tauscher of the Senate.

[ Parent ]
I think Obama might let us down in some ways (4.00 / 2)
But I don't think that would demoralize us in the midterm elections. I think that would galvanize us with new primaries and donations to "Democratic Democrats". I don't see this moment in history as risky. I see it as inevitable. We've been through too much since 1980 to simply hand the keys over to the traditional Democratic leadership.

(Not that inevitability will stop me from playing my part. I'm going to do what I can to make it inevitable.)


I've said it before but I'll say it again -- (0.00 / 0)
the difference between Clinton and Obama is us.

There was no organized movement to hold Clinton accountable back then, or to defend him when the wingnuts attacked. There is now. It's going to be different this time around.

Montani semper liberi


[ Parent ]
Reading comprehension, anyone? (0.00 / 0)
Galston counsels:

"By the end of February, he will have to define his top domestic priorities, submit a budget, and begin the difficult process of unwinding America's combat presence in Iraq."

He would also do well to enact some major stimulus:

"Some of Obama's advisors are urging him to set aside budget limits, at least in the short term, and their arguments are substantial. The financial rescue plan, they argue, is an up-front investment that will see substantial portions repaid, so simply adding it to the deficit total is an analytical mistake. If ever there was a case for a major Keynesian stimulus, they add, that time is now. Indeed, the costs of caution may well be greater."

He suggests that Obama pick low-hanging fruit - programs that have been defunded or underfunded - rather than invest in long term infrastructure or a large health care plan.  Here, I disagree: he must look to the long term.  However, he makes a good point in suggesting that the public wants short term results and the dollars are thin.  

Every day you bash someone for stating the obvious: that Clinton had lower approval ratings at the beginning of his Presidency, when he pursued his moderate left agenda, and higher approval ratings later in his Presidency, when he caved to the right.  There certainly may have been more to the shift in approval: Clinton made rookie errors, the economy didn't immediately rebound, etc.  Whether it is causation or coincidence it open to debate.  But your scenario doesn't make much sense.  If, as you say, Clinton lost the faith of the people because he was pro-business, the Gingrich folks wouldn't have swept the mid-term elections by promising tort reform and capital gains tax reductions.

Obama will be getting us out of Iraq.  He will be enacting some sort of stimulus.  He will be - I hope - tackling healthcare.  In the interim, there will probably be dozens of excellent bills that haven't seen the light of day for the past fifteen years on labor and environmental issues that will pass with ease (I hope).

That's a full agenda.  What, exactly, do the "we want FDR" folks want from Obama?  There isn't any money - Bush looted it all, and we are in recession.  There isn't any "mandate" for Obama to enact any agenda other than the one he presented during the campaign.  

It seems that either I or the so-called progressive movement fails to understand how our system of government works.  My Senators and Representatives are more liberal than Obama.  I expect them to be true to their campaign promises, and adopt new ideas that are consistent with their view of government.  I also support a number of advocacy groups that push for things to the left of Obama.  But I expect that Obama will be true to his campaign promises, and his promised style of governing.  That means, uncomfortable as it may be, that Obama may be an obstacle to some of what I want, as will the blue dogs - which is as it should be, since Tennessee is more conservative than New York.  During the Bush years, New York needed to live with Tennessee values, because Bush and the Republicans forced one party rule without any consideration of the opposition.  I consider this morally wrong.  I don't see why it is justifiable from the left.

This is all relatively academic, because there are zero signs that Obama will do anything other than what he has done to date, which is continue a bipartisan, nonconfrontational path.  


Historical disagreement (0.00 / 0)
As I recall the Republicans won in '94 in much the same way that the Democrats won in '06, by painting the other party as corrupt and ineffective.  Thinking that it was because of the Contract with America that people voted as they did gives too much groun, I think, to the Republicans.  They want to claim that it was an ideological victory, when really it was that people had had a rough economic time for the past couple years (some people had being having a rough time since 1980), and there were prominent democratic congressmen with corruption allegations against them.  When times are bad and you look like all you are doing is lining your pockets, you lose your majority.

If you poll people on the specifics of the Contract I don't think you find broad support for many of the measures.  The point is, it was not an ideological rejection of Clinton.  So it is not evidence of where the country is ideologically.


[ Parent ]
Overstating my claim (0.00 / 0)
Corruption was certainly a theme of the 1994 elections, and the Contract was introducted too late to be, as a package, a decisive factor.

But, I was reviewing two scenarios presented by two sources: the conventional wisdom, in which Clinton started with a moderately ambitious agenda, ran into trouble, but recovered as he caved to the right; and Sirota's explanation, which is that Clinton's free trade and pro-business positions demoralized the base in the 1994 elections, as if that is an explanation for the entire period at issue.

I think Sirota's explanation, while I suppose it could be resurrected by more analysis, is flawed at first look, because:

1.  As I recall, Clinton's approval was down into the mid-thrities in 1993.  Those sorts of approval ratings are refelective of moderates being dissatisfied.  His problem was across the board, not a downtick among the base.

2. Clinton ran as a pro-business free-trader, so it's hard to understand how Clinton's positions on trade demoralized the base.  The ongoing collapse of his health care initiative, on the other hand, probably was demoralizing.  

3.  Even if the demoralization of the base was part of the cause of the loss in 1994, that doesn't explain the rest of the story, which is the long term recovery of Clinton's approval ratings for the rest of his presidency, where he delivered even less to the left.

4.  My recollection of the 1994 elections was that most successful candidates ran pretty hard right campaigns - low taxes, tort reform, anti-gay.  It's difficult to generalize so long after the fact regarding a pre-internet election.  However, the sweep was impressive.  Those sorts of sweeps rarely happen without snaring the independents.  Independents weren't craving an anti-business message.

The conventional wisdom may be wrong.  However, it is a supportable argument.  Sirota's doesn't seem to be.  


[ Parent ]
oh brother (4.00 / 4)
We're a center-right nation.  That's why a majority of Americans favor strengthening environmental protection laws.  And half of all workers would join a union if they could.  And every year gay rights advance in leaps and bounds.  And most Americans would pay more taxes if it meant better schools.  And a clear majority favor government sponsored health care.

Barack Obama better not try to be like FDR!  Boy, was his presidency a failure! ! !


Our work is only beginning; though we've earned a break (4.00 / 1)
Obama is a tool; he may well turn out to be a very powerful and wonderful tool. But the real work will be ours. Continue to work to make progressive the new center. It is the only way. How could it be any other way?

As I hope President Obama will continue to say: power will not give up easily. We must be the power.


Blogosphere must push to counter this myth (4.00 / 1)
Aggressive push by all big bloggers is necessary.  

Any Obama victory must be pushed as a mandate.  Because it is.  


Greg Comlish Proclaims America a Center-Comlish Nation (0.00 / 0)
I wish the press corp would realize that we are not a "center right" or a "center left" or a "centrist" nation.  Most people in this nation are not ideologues, but pragmatists.  All people care about is that things work.  The real lesson of Iraq is that Americans really don't care if you start an unnecessary war, as long as you win it.  They don't care if you deregulate business as long as you don't crash the economy.

Obama doesn't risk alienating voters by being "too left", he risks alienating voters if at the end of his administration he had not materially improved their outlook.  He will succeed with the voters as long as his programs are effective.  


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