Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

"Republicans have become obsessed with ideological purity . . . [b]ut Democrats aren’t ideological enough. Their conservative contingent has so blurred what it means to be a Democrat that the party itself can barely find its way."  So explained Ari Berman last week in a N.Y. Times op-ed in which he recounted then-DNC Chairman Howard Dean's 50-state strategy, designed to elect as many Democrats as possible. Both Dean and Rahm Emanuel, who was then the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, "backed conservative Democrats who broke with the party’s leadership on core issues like gun control and abortion rights."  However, as Berman pointed out, "[t]he party leaders did not give much thought to how a Democratic majority that included such conservative members could ever effectively govern."  Now we know:  "Conservative Democrats have opposed key elements of the president’s agenda, while liberal Democrats have howled that their majority is being hijacked by a rogue group of predominantly white men from small rural states."  Berman concluded, and Howard Dean now concedes, that "Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus."  As the incisive blogger Digby put it: "The Democrats can continue to pretend that having a coalition of liberals and conservatives will somehow show them to be the superior, thoughtful people they believe themselves to be or they can adapt to the existing political environment."  Eric Alterman, just wrote a piece, "Blame in on Rahm," which echoes the problem with pushing to elect conservative Democrats in conservative districts:  "Emanuel’s recruitment of a whole host of conservative-leaning Democrats in places that normally send Republicans to Congress created an entire class of legislators who, either for reasons of ideology or perceived political vulnerability, felt more comfortable undermining the president’s agenda than supporting it."  As Alterman explained, "When combined with a recalcitrant Republican Party whose leaders held no interest in cooperation but plenty in stringing the White House along until it pulled the rug out from under him, Obama was forced to water down his agenda until the bills he fought so hard to pass lacked the essential elements necessary to make them matter to people."  Alterman also criticized Emanuel's subsequent performance as Obama's first chief of staff, where his strategy was "to take any deal that was on the table and then expect the public to express its gratitude at the results."  (Emanuel, thankfully, has left to try to become Mayor of Chicago).  Alterman agreed that "[a]fter Tuesday, the Democrats in Congress will be, of necessity, a smaller leaner group that is on the whole, more ideologically coherent than they have been in decades. It should be a lot easier for them to agree on a common course of action, particularly in light of the outrageous demands that the new Republican majority in the House will be making every day."  The hope is that "in this mix, a Rahm-less Obama should be able to find his mojo again, and return to the rhetoric that won him the presidency in the first place."

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