Hippie Obstructionists

by dday

I want to agree with and expand upon Digby's post about the strain of victimization culture amongst conservatives, the need to rebel against an oppressive eastern elite to make cause with the "common man". This was the thesis of Neal Gabler's op-ed yesterday about the GOP's "McCarthy gene," which argued that the defining characteristic of the modern Republican Party is not ideological Goldwaterism but the Nixonian stoking of resentments that divide the nation and inspire a certain segment of the population who are in a state of perpetual grievance. But I want to focus on this last part:

The good news is that from wherever their sense of grievance originates, conservatives are out of power for the moment. The bad news is that when conservatives are out of power, their sense of grievance gives them the emotional and intellectual basis for destructive obstructionism, even in a time of crisis. In fact, they perceive a crisis as being the perfect time to hold their breath until they turn blue.

The past is never dead with these people. And for liberals, there is no past at all. It's a difficult arrangement.

What makes this particularly toxic is the prevailing opinion in the traditional media that the Obama Administration will not have to worry about Republicans obstructing their agenda at all, but instead have much to fear from "the angry left." Thus, when every single Republican senator lines up to obstruct some policy of Obama's, that will be seen inside the Village as a failure to kick the left in the teeth strongly enough and produce the necessary moderate concessions demanded by this center-right nation. And so the Republicans will pay no price for the obstructionism - it will be the fault of the DFHs.

I'm excerpting most of this exchange. It's truly remarkable.

MATTHEWS: If we try to put up the trade walls, are we going to have a fight on labor issues like this card check thing, about being able to organize individual decision making rather than a big voting election kind of thing. Those kind of issues can really, as you say, could divide the Democrats, right?

CONNOLLY: Absolutely but here's the key to this: Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff. What did he do when he was in the House Democratic Caucus? He often was the person who had to break it to the liberals in that caucuses that things were not going to go their way.

MATTHEWS: Who's going to break it to the blogosphere? They don't like anything that looks like a give to the right. Where are they doing to be on this thing? Are they going to give him a break if he doesn't go hard left and doesn't do what they want?

WHITAKER: I think that Obama has to worry as much about the far left as he does about the far right. But look, you know I think that it could be a plus for him in some ways because I think they are going to give him what you might call a “Sista Soulja moment” when he can stand up to them.


WHITAKER: And talking to some veterans in those early Clinton wars who think that particularly this issue of the card check push by the labor unions to change the rules on organizing could be a moment for him either by delaying that, standing up to the unions, of positioning himself more in the middle and making it harder for the far right to position him the way they tried to during the campaign.

MATTHEWS: You see that, David?

IGNATIUS: This is where the economic crisis, you know, ends up being crucial because people are angry. The country's furious and a lot of these really divisive issues I think will come from the left, not from the right and they'll come from unions, from working people who are enraged at bailouts for big banks and wealthy executives and the pressure on Obama to check some what he'd like to do on the economy I think is going to be very strong from angry people.

MATTHEWS: And you say the left is going to fight anything that looks too conciliatory?

IGNATIUS: You can, it's been obvious now for the past few weeks that the anger in the country is working its way through Congress and it's, the bailouts might make sense in a macro-economic sense but they're increasingly tough politics.

MATTHEWS: Bottom line, we asked the Matthews Meter, twelve of our regulars given the mountain of problems he faces will the right give Obama a longer than usual honeymoon. Our panel is always filled with cockeyed optimists. Eight say yes he gets a longer honeymoon from the right. Four say no, Katy you're with the optimists.

KAY: I am. I'm not sure I'm cockeyed but I am probably an optimist. I think for all the reasons that we've been saying about the mood in the country and the desire to get things done I just don't think that the right at this particular juncture can be seen to stymie an economic agenda in particular. I think that they have to give him the benefit of the doubt for a period of time.

MATTHEWS: Okay big time. Will the Republicans get out of his way and not use any obstructions to stop from getting through a big economic package once he gets in office.

KAY: I think they'll give him...

MATTHEWS: No procedural tricks.

KAY: I think they'll give him three months.

MATTHEWS: Three months.

WHITAKER: Six months.

CONNOLLY : I don't think they've figured out that kind of procedural trick.

MATTHEWS: [laughs] You know what I mean. Filibuster, all kinds of ways to slow the…will they use those tools to slow him down?

CONNOLLY: Doubt it.

IGNATIUS: No ,the Republicans will help him out on the package. His problem is going to be with the left, not the Republicans.

I know that, in official Washington, the road to salvation for any fresh-faced Democrat looking to succeed is to punch a hippie. What is absolutely astounding is that Senate Democrats have lost all recent memory and sense of history about the Republicans the sit next to and work with every day and have decided to publicly state their belief that the Republicans won't obstruct their agenda.

Though they are two votes short of their quest for 60 votes -- with two races still undecided -- Democrats say that regular support from a few Republican moderates will allow them to pass bills that were halted in the current Congress by GOP parliamentary roadblocks. These include health-care programs, immigration revisions and presidential nominations.

"The truth is . . . we will be fine on most major issues. We will almost always have some moderate Republican support," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

From a pure standpoint of vote-counting, some of this is true, but only on the most moderate measures left over from the last legislative session - things like SCHIP, federal funding for stem cell research, etc. We're not at that point in history. This is a crisis moment, and half-measures or tinkering around the edges won't fix it. It seems to me that the exact wrong thing to do is to tell the world that Democrats will be able to get everything they seek, whether Republicans like it or not. That does nothing but stoke the very grievances that causes the obstructionism - historic in the 110th Congress, when Democrats made basically the same public comments - in the first place. And from a strategic standpoint, it makes moderate Republicans the fulcrum point for every piece of legislation coming out of the Senate - meaning they will all be tailored to win those votes - instead of making those "moderates," whoever they are, absolutely petrified to obstruct or else face the same fate as 7 of their colleagues, and counting.

The combination of "center-right nation"-worshipping media egging the Democrats on to kick the left, and Democrats themselves internalizing this message - not the one from the voters - and working the vote-counting strategy completely backwards, unconcerned with how the right will use crisis points to obstruct - is really worrying. At the very least, Democrats ought to know what their opponents are capable of. I am reminded of that somewhat oblivious line uttered by Lyndon Johnson when lighting the White House Christmas tree in 1964, as recounted in Rick Perlstein's Nixonland: “These are the most hopeful times since Christ was born in Bethlehem.” Um, hope is not a plan.