Welcome Their Hatred
What with all the hoopla over Robert Gibbs' comments today it pays to simply remember that everyone in Washington hates liberals. It's a fact of life and until something happens to change the dynamic in which Democratic politicians are afraid to even mutter the words liberal, much less boldly and persuasively make a case for liberalism, I expect this will be the case. (The irony, of course, is that the liberals who do so have been proven right on the politics and the substance far more often than those who bet with the conservatives.)
Kevin Drum says that Democrats do this because only 20% of the country identifies as liberal so they are making a play for the center. I think he's right that they think this way, but one could easily make the case that they'd do better by demonizing the 30% that calls themselves conservatives instead of their own voters. The center, by definition, doesn't identify with them any more than the liberals, right?
There is also a case to be made that the Democratic establishment should be concerned about enthusiasm --- that the activist base needs to be handled with a little bit more respect because they are the ones who knock on doors and make the calls. There's something to that, of course, particularly in the mid-terms which depend so heavily on getting the base out.
But what's dangerously myopic about going ballistic as Gibbs did in his statements is that just 10 years ago we had a little event in which only a tiny portion of the base went with a third party bid from the left --- and the consequences were catastrophic. Democrats, of all people, should remember that every vote matters.
It's embarrassing to have David Frum point out the obvious --- that the Republicans fear their base and the Democrats hate theirs, but it has been so since I was a kid --- a long time ago. At some point they are going to realize that their demanding activist base is the way it is and that they need to figure out a way to deal with it rather than rail against it. You cannot browbeat people into loving you and you can't argue them into being enthusiastic. Certainly characterizing them in cartoon terms by saying "they want to eliminate the Pentagon", they are on drugs and --- worst of all --- suggesting they are not part of America --- isn't going to get you there.
On the other hand, if they just want to use them as doormat as a way to appeal to "the center" then they take their chances that their activists won't turn out to volunteer --- or worse. Sometimes all it takes to lose is a quixotic third party bid, 535 disputed votes in Florida and Antonin Scalia. Why would they ask for that kind of trouble?
Update: It appears that Gibbs was specifically referring to cable commentators, one of whom apparently is Dylan Ratigan, who isn't a lefty at all. But I've got a cure for his problem. Watch Fox instead. It puts things right into perspective.
But let's not be so precious about this. Gibbs was referring to criticism from the left in general, not just cable commentators. And that means you and me and Paul Krugman and gay rights groups and the ACLU anyone else who is frustrated by the administration's political strategy and ideological/policy failure. They aren't alone.
And why shouldn't activist liberals be as angst ridden as anyone else in the country anyway? I realize we aren't considered Real Americans by the Villagers, but the truth is that our lives are just as fucked up as the tea baggers'. The clap louder routine doesn't work with 10% official unemployment, an escalation of an unwinnable war and a lot of talk about cutting the safety net to balance the books. We are not immune to the same stresses that affect everyone else in the country. Perhaps we are the canaries in the liberal coal mine and they should be a little bit more mindful.