"What I am suggesting, in other words, is that the financial crisis worked out the way it did ... because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way."
The Democratic Party Is Losing Its Writers
January 22, 2015

A version of this piece first appeared at DownWithTyranny. GP article archive here.

As regular readers know, I've been recommending a full-on effort to widen the breach now open in all three layers of the Democratic world — the broad voting layer at the base, the smaller activist and writer layer above that, and the narrow layer of office-holders, leaders and insiders at the top.

My reasoning should be obvious; the 2014 elections showed that the voting layer — people who go to the polls, choose progressive policies, and don't choose Democratic candidates — know in increasing numbers that the party has largely abandoned them. Since in fact the party has abandoned them, the voter split can only be healed by an ad campaign, a change of policy, or both.

That ad campaign would be a cynical can of lies without the change of policy. And a change of policy can only be accomplished by (a) aggressively defeating current "Democratic party" leaders, depriving them of any position of power; and (b) convincing fence-straddlers in the current generation of progressive activists to stop supporting the "lesser evil" and start supporting the "greater good."

In other words, by widening the split, or schism, in the upper two layers.

The Party Is Losing its Writers

Among left-leaning writers, that gap is widening at a rate that won't be stopping soon. Thomas Frank, of What's the Matter with Kansas?, has now joined the choir in his latest at Salon. The piece is wide-ranging and includes a nice section on "How many ways can we apologize for Obama? Let's count." That actually my language, not his, but he's just as sharp.

Here's one set of Obama excuses he calls the "MSNBC apologetic":

The first and most obvious excuse for all things Obama is, of course, the Republicans. Given their extreme intransigence and their many loathsome views, the steel-minded pundits say, we left-of-center citizens need to stand behind the president in complete, airtight unity. Criticism must not be permitted ... [I]n the USA ... enforcing party discipline is a job for the punditry, and so I suggest we call this particular species of rationalization the MSNBC apologetic, after the network that is so famously reluctant to air any criticism of the president. It consists, in brief, of demanding a kind of solidarity with Democratic leaders that those Democratic leaders themselves only rarely show for their own rank and file.

And note my second emphasis above — he's thinking this thought, I think. Not bad for a piece whose opening sentence contains this stunner:

one of the most cherished rallying points of the president’s supporters is the idea of the president’s powerlessness.

(I've always thought the Obama Legacy would itself be the less evil of two bad explanations — Is he stupid or just lying to us? Frankly, if those were my legacy choices, I'd pick stupid too, at least until I cashed out, created my own "Obama Global Initiative," and basked on the big stage with Pete Peterson and the other billionaires who love us even less than we think.)

Frank on the Democrats

Frank's take on Obama and the Democratic party looks just at the bank bailout — which even my Tea–voting friends hate with a fervor I envy. Through that lens he examines what Obama could have done (what was within his power, not outside it), what Obama did instead, then adds:

What I am suggesting, in other words, is that the financial crisis worked out the way it did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way.

I've been calling that "Occam's switchblade" — he did it because he wants to — but that's just me being playful. Frank is far more serious. After much excellent discussion, he concludes:

We scientific, hard-headed types are fond of structural explanations for what goes on in Washington, but far too often we are drawn to complicated, roundabout theories whose main virtue is that they get our heroes off the hook.

I propose instead that we turn our scrutiny on those heroes as well. Let us seek to explain the power of money over the Democrats as well as over conservatism. Let us examine the historical victory of a determined free-market faction in the Democratic Party over the larger organization. Let us ask what became of the social movements of the left and why their allies in Washington failed them when their crisis came.

A bit of blunt class analysis might also help. Let us take into account the Democratic Party’s transformation in recent decades into a dutiful servant of the professional class and its every whim and prejudice. ...

The notion that Democrats might have agency is shocking, I know, since it means they bear some responsibility for our unhappy situation. However, once you acknowledge that it might be true, it occurs to you that this simple and direct explanation might also be the key to all kinds of Democratic betrayals and failures over the years, from the embrace of NAFTA to the abandonment of the Employee Free Choice Act. Maybe these episodes weren’t failures at all. Maybe it’s time we confronted the possibility that these disasters unfolded the way they did because Democratic leaders wanted them to work out that way.

Stupid or evil? All the fence-sitters say "stupid"; I've heard them since I started doing this. The party, of course, says "evil" — but of the lesser kind. Frank weighs in with "evil" in this piece, placing himself firmly on the side of the voters and against the fence-sitting apologists.

Thus the party loses another writer, and thus the split — or schism — widens further. Do you want to widen that divide yourself, or bind it back up? We'll all get to decide soon, if Hillary Clinton is the next nominee. That discussion, if it comes, will split the left community right down the middle, and the gap it opens will be wide as the great outdoors. No room in the middle for any of us.

Let me prejudice the decision this way. Citizen, activist or insider — imagine the day your child asks:

"How did you make the world better, mommy?"

And your answer is:

"I was the lesser evil, dear."

That day could come soon.


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