Sunday, November 21, 2010

Defining Narratives, continued…

OK, so now that I have seemingly thrown so many of my compatriots under the proverbial bus as it were, insofar as I have been critical of some, if not all, left-leaning theory – particularly Marxist theory – and, even more importantly, seemingly reversed my position on the false equivalence issue I raised about Jon Stewart’s rally, let me attempt to tie all these lose knots together, if I may.

Let’s start with the last point. There is no false equivalence issue or controversy with respect to Fox News and MSNBC, nor should any of my subsequent writings be construed as a retake on the matter. To compare the two, as Senator Jay Rockefeller did this week, is absurd.  One can still be biased without being a fraud. David Brooks and Thomas Friedman are two excellent examples of conservative and liberal journalists who do honor to their professions. Both men have their biases and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. MSNBC is clearly a liberal news network and they have a predisposition towards the Left that is hardly unbiased. So far as anyone is aware they remain a news organization, albeit with a clear liberal bias. Fox “News” on the other hand isn’t just conservative or right-leaning, it is a strong-armed extension of the GOP with a clear agenda that is decidedly pro-Republican. They have long since stopped behaving like a news organization and have employed tactics that have brought shame and disgrace upon themselves, and clearly damaged the reputation of an entire industry that seems hell-bent on following their lead.  Bill Maher summed it up best.

“It seems to me that if you truly wanted to come down on the side of restoring sanity and reason, you’d side with the sane and the reasonable, and not try to pretend that the insanity is equally distributed in both Parties.  And the big mistake of modern media has been this notion of balance for balance sake; that the Left is just as cruel and violent as the Right, that unions are just as powerful as corporations, and that reverse racism is just as damaging as racism.  There’s a difference between a mad man and a madman.”

To most of the nation this is clearly apparent. Why, then, in the name of trying to be politically correct, did Jon Stewart forget what his eyes, ears and brains tell him every day? Who knows, but me thinks old Jon isn’t just on a mission to convince the public what the rally was really about on his recent tour (hint, it had nothing to do with his “inartfulness”) but rather he’s trying to convince himself. Memo to Jon, 9 out of 10 who showed up that day identified themselves as liberal. Give it up, man. The only person you seem to be fooling is yourself and maybe Colbert.

But it’s the first point that I wanted to expand on, if I may, and since it’s my blog, damn right I may.

It is not the idea of progressivism that I am throwing under the bus, but the practical application of it. How’s that? Simply put, progressives need to understand and accept that for all its virtues, most of the world is NOT liberal, much less progressive. Whenever I am around a pack of progressives who are “discussing” the masses and how we need to lead them to the inevitable truth about their lot and what that lot needs to do to overcome their oppressors, I know why so many people think of us as elitists. We are, without quite realizing it, snobbish bores who would put an exploding sun to sleep. No wonder we get our butts kicked every time out. About the only way we ever take power in Washington is after the Republicans wreck the country. Once in power, we exhibit classic traits of the Ivy-league college professor who is determined to teach his class the lesson of their lives. In the end, the only people we impress are ourselves. Want proof? Rewind the last two years. Go ahead, squirm, we’ve earned it!

What we need is a little dose of reality and a boat-load of good, old-fashioned pragmatism. Yes, I know I have been critical of Obama for being (what was that I called him) Captain Pragmatic. But, now that I think of it, that wasn’t pragmatism he was exhibiting; it was spineless behavior. Bill Clinton was a pragmatist, and he managed to win more battles than he lost. You run on ideals, you govern on chutzpah. Ironically, chutzpah is Yiddish for audacity. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

But it’s more than that. Nixon had chutzpah, as did Bush 43, and when both left office they were considered among the worst presidents of all time. The result of their arrogance deeply wounded the Republican Party and helped Democrats retake the White House, first in 1976, and then in 2008. Clearly a balance of ideals and brazenness is in order. And that leads us back to Clinton.

While the book on his presidency is still being written ten years later, there is one thing that is a given: he was the most effective politician the Democratic Party has had since Roosevelt. While he may not have had the values and principles that FDR possessed, he was nonetheless every bit as savvy. And with a Republican-controlled Congress and a constant barrage of subpoenas dogging his administration, he needed every bit of that savvy. Unlike Nixon and later Bush, Clinton left the White House more popular than when he entered it.

I have already written about Clinton and his counterpart, Ronald Reagan, who together were the most effective communicators to hold the Oval office in the latter half of the 20th century, but the most amazing thing about Clinton is that, unlike Reagan, his base, to this day, still does not think much of him. While they give him his props on survival instincts, he is thought of as a traitor to progressive values. Astonishingly, because Clinton played ball with Newt Gingrich on welfare reform, progressives think he sold them out.

And therein lies the problem that besets progressives in particular and Democrats in general. In an op-ed piece that appeared in Common Dreams.org titled “The ‘Teach-the-Dems-a-Lesson’ Myth” Robert Parry underscores a common theme that has defined progressives and haunted Democrats for decades.

“Over the past four decades, the only times when the Left and the governing Democrats have pulled together in a meaningful way were when the Republicans were in power and when that power went to their heads. However, whenever the Democrats were in power and had the potential to accomplish something meaningful, the split always reopened. The governing pragmatists sought incremental change in an often difficult political / media environment, while the idealists demanded sweeping reforms regardless of public resistance.”

Parry lists several “shining” examples where progressives cut off their noses to spite their faces, including one of the costliest in American history. The split in the Democratic Party in 1980 between liberal Ted Kennedy and incumbent Jimmy Carter, whom the Left felt was way too centrist for their tastes, deeply wounded the sitting President who was already facing a tough reelection. Despite warnings from Carter that Ronald Reagan was way too extreme, many progressives either voted for independent John Anderson or stayed home, thus ensuring a Reagan win. To this day progressives are still in denial, blaming Carter for the loss. “There was very little soul-searching on the Left, which viewed itself as essentially blameless for the catastrophes that the Reagan years wrought,” wrote Parry.  Sound familiar? It should.

Whether it was Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton, or, now, Barack Obama, the Left has behaved much like the spoiled brat who can’t have the proverbial cookie before dinner, so decides to skip the meal altogether out of spite. The result has been a series of political triumphs for the Right, which, unlike its rivals, has never had any problem putting aside its differences and coming together in unison to defeat its opponents. The last two years should be taught in every political science classroom in the country about the merits of just saying no. The GOP rode that wave all the way to victory in the 2010 midterms, while progressives looked like party poopers at a class reunion.

Something has got to give if the Democratic Party is ever going to wield power effectively again. It is clear that Republicans have no viable solution to all that ails the country; it is only a matter of time before, once more, the electorate turns to the Democrats to fix the mess. They still control the Senate and the Executive Branch. The next two years will determine the course the nation will take, quite possibly, for the next generation. If progressives keep acting like they are somehow owed something, then the fate of millions, sadly, will be in the hands of interests far more inimical to their needs than any perceived centrist sellout.

They say pride goeth before a fall. That inscription should be required reading at the DNC, which still hasn’t dealt with the insurrection within its own ranks, and which now must deal with the very real possibility of a splintering party emergence in 2012. Rumors of a Mike Bloomberg run for the White House have not faded and, in deed, have only grown over the last few months. Either a primary challenge to Barack Obama by his own party or a viable third-party candidacy would almost certainly guarantee a Republican victory in the next Presidential election, a prospect the GOP is absolutely drooling over. Shades of 1980 all over again. And yet the Left is not worried; in deed it is eagerly moving forward towards that very real scenario. Not even the specter of a Sarah Palin in the White House seems to be enough to shake them out of their obstinance. Defiant to the end, they would rather see their party lose an election than compromise their core beliefs. Ironically, progressives are the yin to the Tea Party’s yang. Commendable, but ultimately self-defeating.

By playing hard to get, progressives have, in essence, thrown the baby out with the bathwater. They have also ignored the first tenant of politics: you can’t govern unless you win, and you can’t win unless you compromise. It is not their values that I have an issue with here. Given the choice I would much rather live in a world run by progressives than conservatives. The real bone of contention is the single-minded fixation on all or nothing than more often than not leads to nothing. Whether they like it or not, progressives need to realize – and I know I’m repeating myself here – what even the Rolling Stones knew: You can’t always get what you want.

Whether it is healthcare reform or Wall Street reform, the ideal is almost always never achieved. But progress is made and incremental change can be brought about over time. Insisting on having everything your way and immediately is a sure fire way to go down in a ball of flames.

There were many factors that led to Democrats demise in 2010. President Obama’s performance was clearly one of them, and I certainly don't want to minimize that. But the Monday-morning quarterbacking from the Left was a huge canker soar that never went away and only grew over time; and like so many other moments in their sordid history proved fatal when it came time to vote.

In my next piece I will write a plan of attack to regain the Center; what Clinton referred to as triangulation. If Obama can pivot and bring his message directly to the people like his Democratic predecessor did, there is a chance to salvage 2012, brats notwithstanding.

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