Blame conservatives and Obama, not all the Dems

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Plus que ça change…

By Don Smith | September 29, 2010

[print_link] The outcome of the November elections will depend on whether Democrats and Independents trust Obama and on whether they understand that the Republicans are much worse.

Will there be an insurmountable enthusiasm gap due to the unwillingness or inability of Obama and the Democrats to effect reform?
Will voters appreciate the subtle and technical achievements of the Obama Administration, especially with regards to avoiding an economic depression?
Furthermore, will Independents believe conservative talking points about the supposed evils of government? Specifically, will they realize that we need regulation, Social Security, entitlement programs, government-funded research, progressive taxation, and periodic stimulus programs?

It all comes down to marketing. Which side can sell their story to the gullible and not always smart American people?

But to market a product, it’s best if you have a good product to sell. And in November this means: did the Democrats deliver good legislation — or at least try?

For sure, a lot of the blame for the Dems’ failures to pass progressive legislation lies with the intransigence, venality, and evil skill of Republicans. They’ve blocked most bills in the Senate. Moreover, they’ve been masterful at misleading the public about political choices, making it very difficult for Democrats to market their ideas to the American public.
But Democrats can’t pretend that at least some of the blame doesn’t lie with President Obama, his lackluster and bipartisan (conservative) leadership, and the corporatism and corruption of some Democrats.

By refusing to prosecute Bush-era criminals, and by repeatedly welcoming conservatives and Bush holdovers into his Administration and into his policy negotiations, Obama has largely erased the differences between Democrats and Republicans. He’s hidden the truth from the public and failed to educate Americans about the dangers of conservatism. His bipartisanship both aided the enemy and made it much harder to convince Independents that the Dems are better. So he largely has himself to blame for the enthusiasm gap. If Republicans take over the House and subpoena him for impeachment, it’ll be hard not to laugh and cry.
Independents need to be educated. As for progressives, most of them understand the need for government and the evils of the Republicans. But for them, a main topic of discussion has been: what to do about President Obama’s conservatism and unwillingness to lead? Many progressives actively want to punish Obama and the Democrats for their betrayals. This bodes poorly for the Democrats’ chances in November.

I too share that desire to see accountability for Obama, as I’ve discussed here and here. Indeed, just as George W. Bush caused depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness for millions of progressives during the previous administration, Obama’s mysterious sellouts have caused renewed distress and despair for progressives in this election cycle.

On the other hand, I sure don’t want the Republicans to win in November!
Bloggers, columnists and facebook acquaintances keep asking progressives like me to lay off on Obama til after the election. Should I do it? Can I do it?

I understand that the Republicans really are much worse than the Democrats, especially on women’s rights, tax policy, regulation, and corruption. The Republicans would actively try to dismantle the New Deal and would eagerly turn government over to the corporations. The Democrats at least have some conscience.

Moreover, the Democrats are not monolithic! There are many good and middling Democrats, in addition to all the Democrats-in-Name-Only. In contrast, the Republicans are pretty damn near universally bad; witness their almost perfect record of unanimous opposition to Democrats’ reform bills in the Senate. On numerous issues, even on war funding, many Democrats oppose Obama. (See this article) 
Punishing all the Democrats for Obama’s betrayals is unwise and uncalled for. It would be akin to Bush’s misdirected invasion of Iraq as punishment for the 9/11 attacks. (Kinda.) 

Or it’s like libertarians who see government waste and corruption and want to get rid of the SEC, the EPA, and the FDA.

Anyone who says the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans is either a Republican plant trying to incite division on the Left, a radical leftist trying to seduce progressives into giving up on the Democratic Party, or a deluded blockhead. (rhetorical excess)
Still, one possible valid reason for punishing the Democrats would be if you believe that things have to get worse before they get better. “Let the Republicans take over and destroy things completely. The American people will find out pretty quickly what they’ve voted for, and then true progressives will win.”

That would be pretty powerful medicine indeed. It might kill the patient. It might lead to radical right wing populism, not to the moderate left wing populism that progressives want.
Another possibly valid reason for punishing Obama and the Dems is to teach them a lesson.
“Don’t ignore us progressives ever again! We know that our refusal to support Democrats will likely aid the Republicans, but we’re willing to pay the price as a matter of principle and as a point of honor, so that in the future we won’t be ignored.”

Sometimes in life we’re willing to take a hit like that — lose some money or destroy a relationship — even though we know it hurts us too, all because of principle. In war, in love, on the playground, or in a tough neighborhood, you have to show that you refuse to stand for abuse. If people know you’ll fight back and cause them harm, then they won’t mess with you in the future.
The thing is, if the Republicans win one or both houses of Congress in November, they’ll no doubt say that it’s because Obama and the Dems were too socialistic. Knowing Obama, I fear he might agree and might become even more conservative. Democrats will likely blame progressives for their losses, and the country will move onward and rightward.

Teaching the Dems a lesson by allowing the Republicans to win makes some sense, and part of me wants to do it. But it’s not really a winner’s strategy. It’s not constructive, really.
A far better strategy would be to become highly active in the Democratic Party, starting at the local level. That’s how religious conservatives took over the Republican Party starting in the Reagan years, and that’s how Tea Partiers are now taking over the Republican Party — for sure, with a lot of help from the Koch brothers and other wealthy benefactors. Some of the Tea Partiers, by the way, are sincere (but deluded) libertarians who really want to see an end to government corruption and waste (as well as pretty much all government-funded regulation, research and services). The mainstream, corrupt Republicans fear the Tea Partiers, in much the same way that mainstream Democrats fear progressives.
Angry progressives stay home or vote for Nader. Angry conservative take over the Republican Party.

So, in this unpleasant situation, our choices aren’t good. But choosing not to vote and choosing to give up on the Democrats is a loser’s strategy. America’s non-parliamentary political system makes it very hard for third-parties to win. (The Tea Party is not a real third party; it’s a sub-movement within the conservative movement.)

Still, given all Obama’s betrayals, I can’t pretend to like or trust Obama. I’m like a yo-yo: hate the conservatives, can’t ignore Obama’s betrayals. His appointment of Elizabeth Warren to lead the Consumer Finance Protection Agency didn’t change my opinion of him, since he waited til before the election to do it and since he made her report to Timothy Geithner. (If I were a cartoonist, I’d draw her chained.) 

So how can progressives punish Obama without aiding the Republicans and other conservatives?

I say: it’s OK to criticize Obama for his failures. But when you do criticize Obama, please make sure you start by saying how bad conservatives are. Accuse Obama of acting like a conservative. And accuse Obama of aiding and protecting conservatives. Make sure that you don’t over-generalize and blame all Democrats for Obama’s mistakes.
Do acknowledge the good that Obama and the Dems have done — saving the economy from a likely depression, reining in some of the worst abuses of the insurance companies, extending health insurance to millions of uninsured, increasing funding for regulatory agencies, and helping student borrowers instead of banks, for example. See ObamaMeter for a list of Obama’s promises kept and broken (not all of the kept promises are good — like escalating the war in Afghanistan). Think of all the bills in the Senate that died due to (near) unanimous GOP opposition.
What’s so depressing and perplexing about all this is that it wouldn’t have taken much to make feel progressives feel loved. Couldn’t Obama have at least ordered a few token prosecutions of Bush-era officials so that the American people would know the truth about what happened? Or forgone a backroom deal with Big Pharma? Or agreed to tax Wall Street bonuses? Or selected Paul Krugman as Treasury Secretary instead of Timothy Geithner? Or defended some progressive appointees who were hounded from office by conservative distortions? He seems to have gone out of his way to piss off progressives. Even if Obama had failed in some of his initiatives, it would have been enough if he had tried. But it seems he didn’t even try.

Democrats and Independents will have an enthusiasm gap in November. 

Blame conservatives and Obama, not all the Dems.

Author’s Bio: DFA organizer, Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See for my writing, my musical creations, and my animations.
3 comments on “Blame conservatives and Obama, not all the Dems
  1. So… just where were all of these “good” Democrats these past 19 months. I can count a handful who I consider courageous and worthy of progressive support. But, really, the rest just went along with the program or actually undermined potentially good legislation. No! No way will I vote for Democrats again. There is no way to get me back.
    Those spineless cowards are only marginally better than the lunatics on the right. Push the f**king bus over the cliff, and then let’s build new societies out of the rubble. Maybe the USA has run it’s course and needs to break up into manageable pieces. Painful as that may be, the other choice is to continue to support the fascist oligarchy.

  2. Greetings Mr. Smith:

    Thank you for your spirited defense of Democrats. Lord knows they need defending.

    Still, I protest. You write, “…by repeatedly welcoming conservatives and Bush holdovers into his Administration and into his policy negotiations, Obama has largely erased the differences between Democrats and Republicans.” The rest of your article is then spent trying to make hay out of surface-only differences you’d already (quite correctly) acknowledged as mostly nonexistent. They have been for a long time.

    The need to defend Dems surely results from their own decisions of governance, especially their failures to act in the face of ever-widening offensive warfare and Constitutional dismantling. Merely pointing out that the dreaded gops are worse doesn’t make the nut.

    I could list with sickening detail, beginning with the elevation of the security state to supreme, the freedom and prosperity robbing pieces of legislation and policy initiatives the Dems bear equal responsibility for. Health care ‘reform’ guaranteeing lifelong customers and perpetual profits for insurance companies, under force of law no less, instantly springs to mind too.

    When the homes of Quakers, Catholic Workers, Thomas Merton Center folks, Greenpeace and PETA activists are specifically targeted by the FBI under the ‘authority’ of ‘terror’ legislation, something awful has been wrought. If Dems are returned to power will they instantly repeal the Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act, then impeach all the federal judges who’ve ruled these basic violations of human rights to be ‘lawful?’ Will they wind down and return home the enormously expensive military apparatus and mercenary armies they’ve established? I think not.

    Unless they magically become what Democrats are supposed to be, the health of the Republic, the world and freedom itself requires that Dems be removed from Power as much as gops have to be — BECAUSE OF WHAT THEY’VE DONE AND THE KIND OF PEOPLE THEY’VE PROVEN THEMSELVES TO BE.

    Only the We the People can engineer such a change in the political landscape. It begins, peacefully at least, with those who truly understand walking away from a Party that’s rejected its own fundamentals and ideals.

    J.L. Mann

  3. I’m in absolute agreement with the above commenters. The Democratic party—at least the DLC crowd that has given us the Clintons, Gore, Rahm Emanuel, Max Baucus, Pelosi, and its upper third rank and file is beyond salvation. The top tier is indistinguishable from its counterparts in the GOP, all imperialist establishmentarians. Criminal trash. The rest is chiefly comprised of hopeful mainstream centrists wedded to parliamentarism.

    As J.L. Mann has aptly noted, Smith eloquently contradicts himself. His opening paras are in fact a very useful description of the Obama/Dems betrayal of the American people. But then he goes on to say:

    “Do acknowledge the good that Obama and the Dems have done — saving the economy from a likely depression, reining in some of the worst abuses of the insurance companies, extending health insurance to millions of uninsured, increasing funding for regulatory agencies, and helping student borrowers instead of banks, for example…”

    I find the above pathetic and pitiful. Are we now to be grateful for small favors, for crumbs from the table that rightfully belongs to us?

    No political advance was ever gained by crawling on one’s knees, but that’s where Smith would take us if we forgive the Democrats. As for the Republicans, their demise will come sooner than later, as their own criminality will again drive them off the cliff. But the next time Americans have a chance to replace such vermin, they better have real champions of the people instead of smooth demagogs like Obama, and better learn how to be their own champions.

    Thank you for posting such a controversial piece. I suspect the editors were not in agreement with Smith either, but ran the article anyway, to provoke dialog on this matter.

    Meanwhile, down with “lesser evilism”!


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