Making The Case For Surrender
Election mandates are always a matter of interpretation. Nobody ever knows for sure exactly what it was that caused them to go one way or the other. And unsurprisingly, whatever one chooses to believe is usually whatever validates one's own biases. In other words, people usually believe they win or lose on the basis of their own worldview.
This last election, officially known as "the shellacking", was easily predicted by history and by the fact that we are in a monumental recession featuring very high, sustained unemployment. However, there were many people who predicted that it would go badly based upon other criteria. Here's one of those predictions, from December of 2009:
The announcement by Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith that he is switching to the Republican Party is just the latest warning sign that the Democratic Party -- my lifelong political home -- has a critical decision to make: Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come.
Rep. Griffith's decision makes him the fifth centrist Democrat to either switch parties or announce plans to retire rather than stand for reelection in 2010. These announcements are a sharp reversal from the progress the Democratic Party made starting in 2006 and continuing in 2008, when it reestablished itself as the nation's majority party for the first time in more than a decade. That success happened for one major reason: Democrats made inroads in geographies and constituencies that had trended Republican since the 1960s. In these two elections, a majority of independents and a sizable number of moderate Republicans joined the traditional Democratic base to sweep Democrats to commanding majorities in Congress and to bring Barack Obama to the White House.
These independents and Republicans supported Democrats based on a message indicating that the party would be a true Big Tent -- that we would welcome a diversity of views even on tough issues such as abortion, gun rights and the role of government in the economy.
This call was answered not just by voters but by a surge of smart, talented candidates who came forward to run and win under the Democratic banner in districts dominated by Republicans for a generation. These centrists swelled the party's ranks in Congress and contributed to Obama's victories in states such as Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and other Republican bastions.
But now they face a grim political fate. On the one hand, centrist Democrats are being vilified by left-wing bloggers, pundits and partisan news outlets for not being sufficiently liberal, "true" Democrats. On the other, Republicans are pounding them for their association with a party that seems to be advancing an agenda far to the left of most voters.
The political dangers of this situation could not be clearer.
The White House has evidently decided that person was right. It's William Daley, the new White House Chief of Staff.
I don't think this is just a matter of "center vs left" or populist vs neo-liberal however. This is about temperament and personal philosophy. This passage from Jeffrey Toobin's book about the 2000 electionrecount (in which Daley served as Gore's campaign chairman) probably illustrates how Daley will be advising the president better than anything else could:
Even though the automatic recount had cut Bush's lead dramatically in the previous three days, Christopher and Daley offered little hope that the margin could be eliminated completely. "Look you got screwed," said Daley, "but people get screwed every day. They don't have a remedy. Black people get screwed all the time. They don't have a remedy. Sometimes there's no remedy. There's nothing you can do about it...
Lieberman did not share the advisers' reluctance to push forward on all fronts. This became a recurring theme of the post-election period. The Connecticut senator always sounded like a warrior --- in private settings. (Much to the frustration of the Hawks on Gore's team he sounded much different before the cameras.)
Gore too railed against the prophesies of hopelessness he was hearing from Daley. He drew a series of concentric circles on the butcher paper to illustrate what he saw as his responsibilities.Inside the smallest circles were Gore and Lieberman; their closest supporters were in the next circle, then Democrats generally, finally the country as a whole. Gore said his actions had to serve all those groups not just those closest to him. An immediate surrender would be a violation of his obligations to all those who supported him, he said ---- all the people in the circles...
In the end Gore thought they shouldn't make "any momentous decisions." But it was clear that Daley and Christopher felt any victory for Gore was impossible even though more people had gone to the polls there intending to vote for the Vice President than for Bush. Gore and Lieberman couldn't wage the battle alone, of course, and their two principle deputies were telling them, in effect, to give up.
This Saturday had begun with Bush and Gore locked in a closer contest than earlier in the week.Indeed, the Vice President had made gains over the past three days. But the day ended with James Baker leading the attack --- and Bill Daley and Warren Christopher making the case for surrender.