41% Solution

by digby

Todd Beaton catches the latest so-called evidence for center-rightism ---Chambliss' win:

On AC360 earlier David Gergen declared:

I think this actually puts a lot more pressure on Barack Obama to govern much more from the center and not from the left. He is going to need Republicans now, he is going to need a bipartisan approach...

Right, a 41 vote minority should by all means have Barack Obama shaking in his boots. I wonder if Gergen said something similar about Republicans on Nov. 4th, perhaps something like...

I think the fact that Barack Obama won 53% of the vote tonight and that Democrats will have won at least 7 more seats in the Senate and 20 more seats in the House puts a lot more pressure on Republicans to govern much more from the center and not from the right.
Oh, he didn't? Ya don't say...

In fact, Gergen said something quite interesting about all this after Bush's (much closer) victory in 2004:

"From beginning to end, this election was about George W Bush, and he can claim that an apparently insurmountable lead in the popular vote vindicated his policies, his persistence, his personal qualities and his political strategy," wrote Todd S Purdum in the New York Times.

In the Washington Post, John Harris wrote: "George W Bush's presidency - its governance and its politics - was organised from the outset with an unwavering eye on keeping the conservative base of the Republican Party intact, energised and loyal."

And exit polls showed that morality and values were the issues motivating President Bush's core conservative supporters.

"This was not about a difference of policies but a difference over values," said David Gergen on CNN.

And he said that disagreement on social issues such as gay marriage might lead to division in the country and a sense of alienation for John Kerry's supporters.

For Democrats, "there will be a sense of isolation from the majority. A feeling of 'is this the country that we thought it was'?" Mr Gergen said.

Right. But Saxby Chambliss keeping the Democrats from having a 60 seat majority means that the Republicans must be accommodated.

Todd puts it very well:

Gergen's refusal to put the burden on the Republicans to be cooperative and "centrist" rather than the Democrats is really a symptom of the persistent beltway "center right nation" conventional wisdom, which always puts the burden on Democrats to be the centrist ones since the Republican Party, so goes the logic, is where the people already are.

This is why people like me are chafing at all the bipartisan chatter, which does nothing to change that perception. Indeed, it feeds into it.

And until that default rightist mentality is changed, nothing changes over the long term. Sure, the country will hire Democrats to come in and clean up conservative messes from time to time, but they won't ever realize that the party that is identified as the center-left is actually the majority unless someone claims it. The result will be that when the smoke has cleared the country will reflexively want to go back to "normal" by electing Republicans, the true representatives of our naturally center-right country.

I don't expect national politicians to take on labels that have been made toxic by their enemies. But I think it is very shortsighted to continually reinforce these destructive themes and use their own base as a convenient foil. All they do is plant the seeds of their own obsolescence once the country has forgotten what they didn't like about their last rightwing president.

Progressivism needs progressive rhetoric to match policy if it wants to be around long enough to make a real impact. If Democrats make things better without making it clear that their ideology (I know that's a bad word) is superior, the country will simply continue to treat politics like entertainment and vote for whoever puts on the best show and makes them feel good about themselves at a particular time, irrespective of their policies. It would be foolish to think the Republicans will never again be able to compete in that arena. They have shown themselves to be very adept at that kind of politics.

Now, if their ideas could be so discredited that nobody wants to ever be associated with them again it wouldn't matter if they ran the reanimated Elvis, nobody would want to vote for them. But that's not going to happen if progressives believe that it doesn't matter if our politicians distance themselves from progressivism simply because it's easier than challenging the myth that the country is center-right.

This is a two party country. You can say you aren't "ideological" and that you are a pragmatist, as Obama does, but polarity is the norm. This isn't just semantics --- it matters in a very prosaic, practical way if the country identifies itself with the party that has staked out the conservative side of the line. You can see from the two different responses to presidential victories by Gergen how that plays itself out politically.

There's a reason why armies wear identifiable uniforms and it's so their own fellows will recognize them.