Fickle Independents and Liberal Postmortems

By mw | Related entries in Divided Government, Independents, Left, Liberalism


Source: Resurgent Republic

As we somberly walk in the funeral procession following the midterm election, the air is filled with cries, lamentations, rending of garments, and portents of doom from Democrats and liberals, much as we heard from Republicans and conservatives after the Republican Party was interred in 2008.

Buried under the mountain of navel gazing, finger-pointing, self-serving spin, and bitter invective in the left-o-sphere, we can still find a few gems of sparkling analysis, insight and useful advice. We’ll mine two examples of Progressive postmortems. One is a rich vein of solid gold analysis, but to get to it we must first separate and dispose of the slag.

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic cannot hide his bitterness and anger in this devastating dismantling of the straw man he props up for that very purpose:

Split Ends – The myth of divided government
(full text at The Cagle Post)

“No sooner had Republicans swept into power, promising to repeal President Obama’s major initiatives and make his defeat their top priority, than a bevy of pundits declared that this was all just a prelude to a new era of moderation and compromise. What will bring about this outbreak of bipartisanship? Simple: divided government. All you need to do is give each party some stake in the success of government, and watch the cooperation blossom….

The main trouble with the endorsement of divided government is a failure to grasp the cause of the unraveling of a bipartisan consensus. “Recent presidents have had more success when forced to work with slim majorities in Congress, or even none at all,” asserted Matt Bai in The New York Times earlier this year. Bai cited tax reform under Ronald Reagan and environmental protection under Richard Nixon. Of course, those policies depended on Republican presidents who accepted goals, such as toughening environmental regulation and cracking down on corporate tax evasion, that are antithetical to the contemporary party….

The fetishization of divided government resembles a kind of cargo cult: If only we reconstruct the division of power from 1983, then surely the Greenspan Commission will return to solve our problems. The conditions that created those old bipartisan agreements aren’t coming back, no matter what you do to conjure them.”

It apparently makes Chait feel good to monotonously apply the pejorative of a “fetish” to the divided government voting heuristic, but it does exactly nothing to further his argument (as I’ve noted before).

This might be a reasonable argument, if the reason that independents voted for divided government was with the express hope of ushering in an era of bipartisan cooperation, moderation and compromise. It wasn’t. Bipartisan cooperation may or may not happen in the next two years, but it has nothing to do with the reason why many independents voted as they did. They voted to restrain the excesses of this latest edition of One Party Rule (Democratic version). They voted in reflexive horror after witnessing two examples of mind-numbingly bad and jaw-droppingly expensive legislation – ARRA (Stimulus) and PPACA (Obamacare) – that were both made possible and steamrolled by One Party Democratic Rule.

Whether our impending divided government produces bipartisan cooperation or not, it remains a fact that true bipartisan cooperation is impossible when one party holds all the cards. For the last two years the Democrats held all the cards. If the divided government of the next two years does nothing else but prevent or moderate legislation like ARRA and PPACA, then it will meet the objectives of many independents that voted for it.

For an antidote to Chait’s toxic mix of bluster, logical fallacy, and dismissive ad hominem offered up as an explanation of the election, electorate and governance, consider Lee Durham of the Progressive Policy Institute. Durham presents some real data-centric analysis, offers real insight, and comes up with some good suggestions for Democrats and President Obama in:

How to Understand the Independents (and how to win them Back)“:

“For Obama and the Democrats to win in 2012, they will clearly need to win back the “Independent” voters who they lost in 2010. As we know, Independents broke hard for Republicans this time, after breaking hard for Democrats in two previous elections. Clearly they hold the balance of power in American politics…

It is obviously difficult to generalize about Independents, since it turns out they are actually quite a heterogenous group. About two-thirds lean to one party or the other, consistently voting for that party about 80 percent of the time. However, they are less partisan than strong partisans, and there are at least a few true independents in the mix: about 10 to 15 percent of the electorate, according to political scientists.

…and finally, on the policy: since almost half of Independents call themselves moderate, a number of them were probably uncomfortable with the liberal direction unified Democratic control was taking government. There were probably some number of genuinely moderate voters who saw Republicans as a correction to Democratic extremism, just as they had recently seen Democrats as a correction to Republican extremism. They might also want divided government

How can Obama and the Democrats win back the lost Independents? Since the Independent voters most likely to swing back into the Democratic column are also those who are the most performance-based and the least ideological, it makes sense for Obama to keep focused on economic recovery and let Republicans go pursue an extremist agenda. If Obama and the Democrats can pitch themselves as the hard-working, economy-focused force of moderation while Republicans engage in partisan bomb-throwing, many of the true swing voters who went Republican will surely have a bit of buyer’s remorse. ”

I’ll leave it to the reader to compare and contrast these two very different progressive perspectives of the election, electorate, and, most importantly, the way forward. Consider which of the two is informed by common sense, logic and data and which is informed by rhetoric, sophistry and rage. I submit they are representative of two significant and incompatible constituencies within the Democratic Party. The schism has been there all along, but was papered over in 2006 and 2008 by the unifying principle of Bush Hate. Regardless of how skilled Axelrod, Gibbs, and Plouffe may be at “triangulation”, the Obama administration cannot simultaneously turn left and turn toward the center. I hope Democrats choose wisely, as I really don’t want to see us return to one party Republican rule in 2013. If they rely on Palin and Tea Party to hand the 2012 election to the Democrats, they just may be disappointed…

Again.

Portions excerpted and cross posted from Divided We Stand United We Fall


This entry was posted on Sunday, November 21st, 2010 and is filed under Divided Government, Independents, Left, Liberalism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Fickle Independents and Liberal Postmortems”

  1. Tweets that mention Donklephant » Blog Archive » Fickle Independents and Liberal Postmortems -- Topsy.com Says:

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  2. Chris Says:

    Are you done masturbating now?

  3. kranky kritter Says:

    I don’t think the voters really voted for divided government.

  4. mw Says:

    @Kranky

    I didn’t say that was the only reason but, certainly you have to agree that some did. Actually I was even more circumspect in what I said in this post. I made no claim about motivations of voters in general, saying only that many Independents voted that way, and also offering two other reasons for the shift in Independent votes from ’08 to ’10:

    “They voted to restrain the excesses of this latest edition of One Party Rule (Democratic version). They voted in reflexive horror after witnessing two examples of mind-numbingly bad and jaw-droppingly expensive legislation – ARRA (Stimulus) and PPACA (Obamacare) – that were both made possible and steamrolled by One Party Democratic Rule.”

    Voting against one party Democratic rule is different than voting for divided government, even if two sides of the same coin. And just being disgusted by the crappy legislation that the Democrats passed is a different reason all together.

    Not explicitly stated, but what I intended and could be inferred from the post, is that I was referring to a subset of what Durham called “true independents” – i.e. not voters who self-identify independent while voting consistently partisan, but that 10% or so of the electorate that actually are capable of shifting their vote for federal offices between the two major parties on an election by election basis.

    This is not vastly different than what was said by Lee Durham in the PPI report I quoted:

    …since almost half of Independents call themselves moderate, a number of them were probably uncomfortable with the liberal direction unified Democratic control was taking government. There were probably some number of genuinely moderate voters who saw Republicans as a correction to Democratic extremism, just as they had recently seen Democrats as a correction to Republican extremism. They might also want divided government…

  5. Thomas Says:

    The problems with both the stimulus and with healthcare reform is that the Democrats allowed too many concessions to the GOP. The stimulus needed to be half again bigger and the overhaul should have contained a robust public option.

    We got neither because the Democrats were spineless quibblers who chose to give in to Republican interests that they should have outright ignored and excluded from the debate, just as the GOP did to the Democrats for the first six years of this century.

  6. Chris Says:

    Agreed Thomas, they got screwed over for their efforts anyway, they might as well have amounted to something – which they didn’t.

  7. kranky kritter Says:

    The problems with both the stimulus and with healthcare reform is that the Democrats allowed too many concessions to the GOP. The stimulus needed to be half again bigger and the overhaul should have contained a robust public option.

    Ahh, the party line for progressive true believers. That democrats failed because they were not bold enough, that attempts to be conciliatory were what doomed them, that the system corrupted them. That they lost sight of the ideals that got them elected.

    I’m certain that progressives will hold firmly to this interpretation, to the grave. So don’t anyone construe what I’m saying here with any desire to argue that point.

    But do notice that this is essentially the same complaint made by the hardcore conservatives who deserted the GOP circa 2006-2008 and who roused the rabble for 2010.

    FWIW, I don’t disagree with anyone who says that the system tends to corrupt, or that bold ideas generally get watered down. However, I do feel that we are largely stuck with it, aside from being able to tinker with it on the margins.

    For example, I think we really can make changes that grow the influence of authentic independents: people who really have voted for either side on occasion or for independent and 3rd party candidates. We really can diminish party dominance. Sentiment for this as a high as I have ever seen it.

    But we’re stuck with democracy, which means we are stuck only being able to make big changes to the system when there is broad majority support.

    I won’t argue with anyone who is convinced that there really is broad majority support for healthcare that includes a broad public option or a single payer system, along with very large government subsidies. You wanna believe that, that’s your mileage.

    Suffice it to say that I think the nature of the healthcare reform passed by democrats last summer reflects the fact of insufficient consensus in favor of something bolder. In other words, if the people had wanted a robust public option, it would have been passed. The role of blue dog democrats in opposing bolder reform is reflective of ambivalent public appetite for that. And progressives can’t face that.

    Fact is, there is far less public consensus about what we want than there is about what we dislike. We love all the modern advances that the healthcare industry has brought, but we are reluctant to pay for what it seems to be costing. Americans have been the ones paying the early adopter tax on healthcare advances for a generation, and we can’t really afford that anymore. Annual cost growth has brought us to a point where we have to face accepting only what we can now afford, going forward.

    In a democracy such as ours, broad consensus can only come from the middle. America is not going to suddenly see a broad consensus emerge which strongly favors bold progressives or staunch conservatives. It has been only 2 years since bold progressives declared such a broad consensus for them, with conservatives irrelevant.

    Remember that? Under 2 years of time has shown them to have been way off about what the people wanted, yet they can only attribute their failure to insufficient boldness. Any amateur psychologist who has studied the nature of faith will tell you that’s how it works, whether the faith is political, religious, or something else.

    And now we see rising conservatives who imagine an emerging broad consensus clustered around their boldest ideals. The pattern is repeating, and both partisan wings are oblivious to their role in it. Both wings are doomed to repeat the pattern of pushing for change far beyond what the people support, achieving something far less than what they wanted, and then blaming that failure on insufficient boldness.

    Politics really is the art of the possible. Which no partisan can ever believe or accept.

  8. Chris Says:

    I don’t know if he’s saying that having bolder actions would have won the democrats more votes… more like both those actions were failures because they both were so watered down that they accomplished very little for all the strife and backlash they caused.

    They might as well have been bold actions, because the outcome would have been the same in regards to the election.

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