Saturday, June 18, 2011

Re-energizing the left

My head is still spinning a bit after listening to three solid days worth of speeches and panels at Netroots Nation, but some things have become clearer. Activists on the left are less focused on President Obama and his agenda, and have moved on to more fundamental issues. What I heard over and over again this weekend were references to the battles of Wisconsin and other states to beat back the Republican assault on public employees' right to collective bargaining; the battles on a national level over the Republican plan to modify Medicare; and the corruption of politics on all levels by corporate money. Obviously, it was the mid-term election of 2010 that brought all these issues to the fore, and the Republican resurgence in 2010 has galvanized a powerful counter-backlash centered around these issues.

Nothing could represent a more frontal assault on cherished Democratic values than the Republican attacks on collective bargaining rights and Medicare. When the Republicans came after these most basic cornerstones of the Democratic program, they should have expected a major fight. And they are getting one. So in a sense we have moved backwards, from thinking about the new politics of working together to devise consensus solutions for the common good represented by the Obama administration, to good old fashioned knock-down, drag out fights to preserve the most important achievements of the New Deal and the Great Society many years ago.

Meanwhile Barack Obama is still trying to work the new politics by playing golf with John Boehner. I applaud this effort to establish a better working relationship with adversaries with whom the Democrats must deal in order to move forward on the budget and other issues. But the image of these two powerful men playing golf together probably rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and President Obama's tactics seem somewhat irrelevant to the plans of the Democrats I was spending the weekend with here in Minneapolis. They are busy plotting a return to the old bare-knuckled tactics that may be necessary just to preserve the gains Democrats previously made. I see no reason why the new politics cannot coexist with the old. Sometimes you need to make war and make peace at the same time, and that is what may be  happening now.

(Video: Rep. Keith Ellison closing speech)


  1. When will the left and right begin to understand that they are minorities focused on relatively small issues. There are so few real difference among the left and right on the real issues sinking our nation that re-energizing is a detriment.

    Emo doesn't solve issues. Lets start problem solving on the big issues. Reducing union benefits and raising taxes are foregone conclusions. Please, think big!

  2. I understand your point Kevin, but maybe it's the middle that is the source of the energy I'm talking about. In 2006 and 2008 when the Democrats took over first Congress then the presidency, the left thought they had a mandate to implement programs they had been talking about for years. Then in 2010, when moderate voters became worried about the health care bill and the stimulus and TARP, the results of their shift to the right was to elect a whole slate of radical Republicans who thought they had a mandate to cut taxes, slash government spending, destroy Medicare, overturn regulations, the whole Tea Party program. You can argue that moderates are sensible people who would like to implement a mix of both parties' programs, but the fact of the matter is that in about 60 Congressional races, and a whole bunch of state legislative and gubernatorial races, these supposedly sensible moderates threw out mostly conservative Democrats and voted for some very, very radical Republicans. And these new Republican legislators are talking about doing things that Ronald Reagan only dreamed about. Which of course only has the effect I'm talking about in my post, of getting the left riled up about how the Republicans are not only trying to undo the last couple of years, they are trying to undo everything the left accomplished since the Roosevelt administration.

    I'm sure that moderate and independent voters don't intend to cause these wild swings, but they should understand that that is what they are doing.

    And I don't agree that the differences between the two sides are small. When you are talking about privatizing Medicare, or destroying the rights of unions to organize, you are talking about major philosophical and practical differences; you are talking about two completely different visions of what kind of country we are. And the Democrats I was meeting with this weekend would love a real debate about those competing visions. The only thing they are afraid of is all the corporate money and the lies that will distort the debate.

  3. Aaahhh ... I think I get it ... the middle is to blame for agreeing with the rhetoric of the far left -- and then agreeing with the rhetoric of the far right ... and then agreeing with the rhetoric of the far left ... and on and on. Life must be cozy when you reside inside a 10% minority and all is so clear. You always have a candidate (even if you don’t love them -- and you always have an enemy (even if you don’t hate them). The extremes are killing this country by refusing to address real structural changes because they are all in bed together. So they square off on otyher issues (taxes and entitlements). Medicare has to be changed. Taxes will be raised. That is a given. America doesn't need the left and right to re-energize. We need answers.

    Please -- render an opinion:

    We have 9% unemployement, 20% real unemployment and a 14 trillion dollar deficit. We have structural problems with home ownership, big banks, military spending, energy, agri business and free trade. What ideas or plans do the left and Obama have?

  4. It's not that the middle agrees with the left or the right. The problem is that the middle does not fully participate in selecting candidates. That is partly the fault of the primary system, which doesn't even allow independents to participate in many places (although this is changing). But it is also the fault of many moderates who do not vote in primaries even when they are allowed to do so. Turnout is much lower in primaries, and the people who mostly turn out are mostly the most partisan voters on each side. So moderates are forced to swing wildly back and forth in the general election.

    I think you and I agree that the system would work better if there were more moderate Republicans in the legislature, and more conservative Democrats. That opens up more possibility for forging bi-partisan compromise. And that is something that has changed a lot over the years. The Blue Dog Democrats were almost all voted out of office, and moderate Republicans have become an endangered species (although there are still about four of them in the U.S. Senate).

    The left has many plans for dealing with all of these issues. The right also has many plans. Some of these plans are diametrically opposed even when we can agree on what the problems are. It is hard to think of any plans the Republicans will go along with unless they involve cutting spending, cutting taxes or cutting regulations. And we have already done too much of all those things.

  5. Lets get to the point -- you are on the left. You need to be willing to cut spending. At the same time, the right needs to be willing to raise taxes. It doesn't mean you are happy about voting for legislature that you view as less favorable option. It means you are willing to attempt to save this country. Politicians must move toward one another. I will vote for the politician who vows to cut spending and raise taxes. Will you? If not, I see your ideology as part of the problem.

  6. If you will vote for the politicians who promise to cut spending and raise taxes, then you should vote Democratic, because that is what they have promised and that is what they have done. Republicans, on the other hand, have refused to support the amount of revenue we need to pay for the things that we want, and that is one reason we are in the fix we are in, especially at the state level. And Republicans don't cut spending much either, they just moan about it, and they just have different spending priorities than Democrats.

    But I also think that nobody should ask anybody to cut spending unless they specify what they want to cut. Otherwise, "spending" is just some kind of bogeyman. It doesn't mean anything.

  7. Going forward -- I pledge to vote for the politician that campaigns as part of their platform to cut spending and raise taxes. I don't care what party they are tied to. Will you?

    Please don't defer to specifics of how much taxes will be raised or what type of spending will be cut. Of course those details will shape your vote. Try to answer in the spirit of goodwill that I am asking them in. Will you drop your ideology and vote in the way that is uncomfortable, as I will (as someone in the center) to accomplish needed compromise and save our country? If yes, then you owe it to veryone to say so rather than re-energize and digging in your heels.

    Frankly, I don't want to excerise and eat a strict diet. But I do, because I want to live and I want to mitigate the risks of sudden death. Likewise, I don't want to pay higher taxes or support inefficient spending. But I will pay more tax if budget cutting is also on the table. We _must_ all support our collective long term health in a realisitc way. Not the way we would like it to be. Will you do it?

    Sooner or later super smart guys like you will need to stop re-nergizing and start mediating. Who is going to solve these cases that require mediating if folks like you wil not take them on?

  8. Robert Kennedy spoke about moral courage. He encouraged speaking out and telling the truth about your community within. He noted that doing so generates the most uncomfortable criticism of all. Where is the moral courage from the left and right today. When will they mediate. Sometimes we have to see what we don't want. Ignoring reality will protract our crisis.

  9. Excellent discussion. Although I feel inadequate to the task, I think I’ll enter in my meager contributions.

    I think the goals of both parties are generally the same. Each party wants America to be as free and prosperous as possible. The differences between the parties, however, comes within how to achieve said goal and what that goal should look like when everything is said and done.

    My liberal friends always ask me “why do you vote Republican?” The answer is that although there are some similarities between my ideas and that of the Democrats, we have a fundamental philosophical difference that renders me unable to vote Democrat in good conscience.

    I believe in social justice, but I believe in the Aristotelian notion of justice, not social justice as it has been hijacked by socialists. I think it is immoral to not help someone who falls on hard times through no fault of their own, but I don’t think we should do it with incredibly high taxes.

    We should not all have the same income or modicum of prosperity, but everyone should have the minimum modicum of prosperity for survival, as long as that person is someone who works and contributes to society in some way.

    I have no patience or sympathy for the welfare lifers, and they do exist, who pop out kids because they know the government will pay for it.

  10. I post my thoughts over at far right wing blogs as well as at places like The Moderate Voice, which isn't very moderate at all. It is a place for left and right wingers to both espouse their ideology and politely disagree. Unfortunately, I am met with the same lack of commitment to problem solve. The left and right need to shake themselves. Collectively, we are killing our children’s future. But I suppose that may be worth it to the far left and right, as they are left with their principles and can pass those along to our children!

  11. I'm willing to grant that sincere conservatives believe that their plan to cut taxes and shrink the size of government is the best way forward for the country. I also know that sincere liberals believe that their plan to extend the scope of social programs to somewhere approximating what every other advanced nation does, is the best way forward for the country. But I'm not sure, Kevin, why you believe that people in the middle have a better plan, or why you believe that both the right and left are destroying America.

    The part of what you are saying that I agree with, however, and I have said this in other posts, is that it is good for us politically to come to some kind of consensus position that allows elements of each side's programs to pass. And when we all feel we are making progress politically, that's probably good for the economy also.

    Sometimes, however, you can't satisfy both sides at once--you can't cut taxes and raise taxes at the same time!--but other times you can embrace elements of both side's proposals. But then you sometimes get the kind of policies that we usually end up with, which can be an incoherent, inefficient mess. Is that what the middle wants?

  12. “But I'm not sure, Kevin, why you believe that people in the middle have a better plan, or why you believe that both the right and left are destroying America.”

    I am not speaking for the middle. I am speaking for myself and to the right and left as a pragmatist. I assume, that is the way you see yourself as a mediator.

    “The part of what you are saying that I agree with, however, and I have said this in other posts, is that it is good for us politically to come to some kind of consensus position that allows elements of each side's programs to pass. And when we all feel we are making progress politically, that's probably good for the economy also.”

    Joe! That’s all I am saying.

    “you sometimes get the kind of policies that we usually end up with, which can be an incoherent, inefficient mess. Is that what the middle wants?”

    Hell no that is not what anyone wants – that’s what we have. In my view, individually, the far left and far right cannot solve that puzzle. I am calling for both sides to solve the puzzle together. In our hearts, left and right know that’s what it will take. To call for anything else in an emergency is wrong. We don’t need to stoke emotion unless it is tied to problem solving.