Friday, November 07, 2008

"America Remains a Center-Right Nation"

Dday's ticked.
"Politics is not left, right or center ... It's about improving people's lives."

-Paul Wellstone, Election Night 1990 acceptance speech
We are 18 years on from that piercingly simple statement, and yet nobody in the Democratic Party has managed to use it as the antidote to this endless effort to analyze and re-analyze the election through a conservative frame, by claiming this is a center-right country and Obama had better be cautious in enacting an agenda too far to the left, which would anger the public. This is of course true if you believe the public is directly analogous to the Washington commentariat. I've had a hard time chronicling everyone who has told me that, in the wake of the largest victory for Democrats since 1964, in the wake of winning a majority of the votes cast in 4 out of the last 5 Presidential elections, in the wake of reducing the Republican Party to a regional outpost in the South and part of the Great Plains, this is a profoundly conservative nation. Here's a partial list:

Ron Brownstein, Jon Meacham, Peggy Noonan, Howard Fineman, David Broder, John Heilemann, John King, Mark Penn, Doug Schoen, Charles Krauthammer, Ruth Marcus, Marc Halperin, Dan Balz, Peter Wehner, William Galston, Bob Kerrey, Fred Barnes, Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough.

I think they call that a meme. Just for fun, here's a textbook example of the genre:
"My own hunch is that Obama is smart enough not to want to govern as a liberal," said Peter Wehner, a former Bush administration official.
(On our side we have Nina Easton. Whoop-de-damn-do.)
I'd suggest not following all your links. Cleaning up exploded headmeats is difficult and frustrating.

Ok, so what's going on here? Dday talks about the "movement conservatives masquerading as journalists" in that list. That kind of implies the problem: that while the Republicans have been decimated, the movement conservatives are still very much around.

And why wouldn't they be? All the advantages they had two or three years ago are still pretty much advantages today. They've still got oodles of money to buy them nice Washington real estate and house publications. They've still got the rolodexes (well, Outlook contact lists) of reporters eager to receive the well-crafted, easy-to-quote copy that the movementarians provide them. They've still got their sinecures on various television shows. They've still got their place on the Washington cocktail circuit. And they've still got their legions of eager young conservative acolytes who are willing to do all the real work for them.

(And as much as I like the netroots, let's be honest: you could pay the entire netroots' annual operating costs with the budget for the AEI/Heritage axis for a week, and there's no comparison between the Washington presence. There's simply no comparison.)

None of these advantages have anything to do with elections. Elections don't take the money away, they don't take the people away, they don't take the needy reporters away, and they don't take the wingnuts away. They don't even change the rhetoric, because the rhetoric is about supporting the movement, not fairly interpreting events. They say that conservatism always win because that's their job. And they'll make sure their friends in the media say it, too, because that's their job too.

Your job? To deny it. Say "no, this is a progressive mandate." Say it over and over again. Say that he won the biggest majority since Reagan. Say that the Dems won a lot of seats. Say that the Dems are likely to pick up more in 2010. Say that the Dems came so close to getting a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate that they're waiting on recounts. Say that Obama has a mandate for change, and it ain't conservative change. Say that America's a more progressive nation than Washington, and Washington needs to change to match.

And say that if America wanted Republicans in power, it wouldn't have turfed them out on their asses.

Edit: Actually, dday said it well too, should have quoted him:

I think Obama's instincts in this regard may be decent.
The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, "I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f---ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."
But he's going to need a great deal of help, and this is where Digby was going previously. The liberal blogosphere is uniquely positioned to act as the counterweight to this large gelatinous mass tut-tutting that we mustn't rock the boat and have the candidate who ran on change actually change anything. Progressive organizations like Media Matters can attack this meme and treat it with the withering contempt it deserves. Obama is going to hear this in his ear (probably from his new Chief of Staff) every ten seconds from the moment he takes the oath of office. It's important for us to make sure he hears something else.
Yep. One of the reasons why people like Marshall Wittman are moaning about "Obamaworld" is because they know that a progressive counterweight exists out there, and Obama is savvy enough to realize that jettisoning his base isn't an option even if he were a reflexive centrist. (He isn't.)

Progressive. Mandate. Say it.

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