Results Matter by David Atkins

Results Matter
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

Matt Taibbi, trenchant as usual:

The general consensus is that for the second time in three years, a gang of financial terrorists has successfully extorted the congress and the White House, threatening to blow up the planet if they didn't get what they wanted...

But that isn't what happened. What did happen? The popular take is that Obama is a weak leader of a weak party who was pushed around by canny right-wing extremists. Observers like pollster Sydney Greenberg portray Obama and the Democrats as a group of politically tone-deaf bureaucrats who fail because the public associates them with a corrupt government that benefits the rich and connected.

The Democrats, Greenberg argues, could change their situation by showing the public that they genuinely represent the interests of ordinary working people...

The Democrats aren't failing to stand up to Republicans and failing to enact sensible reforms that benefit the middle class because they genuinely believe there's political hay to be made moving to the right. They're doing it because they do not represent any actual voters. I know I've said this before, but they are not a progressive political party, not even secretly, deep inside. They just play one on television.

For evidence, all you have to do is look at this latest fiasco.

The Republicans in this debt debate fought like wolves or alley thugs, biting and scratching and using blades and rocks and shards of glass and every weapon they could reach.

The Democrats, despite sitting in the White House, the most awesome repository of political power on the planet, didn't fight at all. They made a show of a tussle for a good long time -- as fixed fights go, you don't see many that last into the 11th and 12th rounds, like this one did -- but at the final hour, they let out a whimper and took a dive...

It strains the imagination to think that the country's smartest businessmen keep paying top dollar for such lousy performance. Is it possible that by "surrendering" at the 11th hour and signing off on a deal that presages deep cuts in spending for the middle class, but avoids tax increases for the rich, Obama is doing exactly what was expected of him?
Harsh, but 100% accurate.

Ironically, Taibbi isn't saying anything here that isn't also being whispered in the corridors of Democratic Party politics. I just returned from a long weekend at the California Democratic Party Executive Board meeting in Anaheim, with about 150 decision-makers from around the state. As the outlines of the "deal" started to become clear on Saturday night, speculations similar to those made by Taibbi were not uncommon--if only mentioned in private and with much grumbling. The mood was more than grim. It was angry, and many board members sought answers: why was this happening? Was it weakness? Corruption? A simple consequence of hostage-taking on the Right?

These discussions were eerily parallel to those playing themselves out within the online community. It's an argument about President Obama's motivations. Does Obama truly want to implement conservative policies, or is he being forced to adopt them by a combination of an intransigent Republican Party and his own overaccommodating negotiating style?

Corey Robin posted an interesting Facebook roundtable with the likes of Rick Perlstein, Katha Pollitt, Josh Cohen and others where this same argument played out back and forth in a more respectful and edifying way than is usually typical of the subject. But still no mutually agreeable answers.

Certainly, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the President, like President Clinton before him, actively wants to bring about policies that span from neoliberal to downright conservative. There is also a great deal of evidence to suggest that the modern GOP is a uniquely destructive force in the history of modern American politics, forcing Presidents Obama and Clinton both to make a series of Hobson's choices. While the latter theory increasingly strains credibility in the face of mounting evidence for the former, both theories are probably correct to at least a certain degree.

But ultimately this argument that consumes so much energy and passion within progressive circles both online and offline is irrelevant. Because in the end it matters little if conservative policies are brought about under Democratic administrations through weakness or ill intent. The end result is the same, as are the difficult decisions faced by progressives: attempt to change the Democratic Party both from within and without, or attempt to destroy it and subvert the two-party system.

Regardless, attempting to peer into the President's soul is a fairly fruitless exercise either way. The only real question from here is: "So now what?" It's a loaded question, and there are no easy answers.