Stubborn Idiocy by David Atkins

Stubborn Idiocy
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

Reading newspapers: it's like reading blogs, but several months too late. The New York Times is finally discovering what on-the-ground Democratic activists have known for months:

Democrats are expressing growing alarm about President Obama’s re-election prospects and, in interviews, are openly acknowledging anxiety about the White House’s ability to strengthen the president’s standing over the next 14 months....

“In my district, the enthusiasm for him has mostly evaporated,” said Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon. “There is tremendous discontent with his direction.”

The president’s economic address last week offered a measure of solace to discouraged Democrats by employing an assertive and scrappy style that many supporters complain has been absent for the last year as he has struggled to rise above Washington gridlock. Several Democrats suggested that he watch a tape of the jobs speech over and over and use it as a guide until the election.

But a survey of two dozen Democratic officials found a palpable sense of concern that transcended a single week of ups and downs. The conversations signaled a change in mood from only a few months ago, when Democrats widely believed that Mr. Obama’s path to re-election, while challenging, was secure.

“The frustrations are real,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, who was the state chairman of Mr. Obama’s campaign four years ago. “I think we know that there is a Barack Obama that’s deep in there, but he’s got to synchronize it with passion and principles.”

There is little cause for immediate optimism, with polls showing Mr. Obama at one of the lowest points of his presidency.

His own economic advisers concede that the unemployment rate, currently 9.1 percent, is unlikely to drop substantially over the next year, creating a daunting obstacle to re-election.

Liberals have grown frustrated by some of his actions, like the decision this month to drop tougher air-quality standards.

And polling suggests that the president’s yearlong effort to reclaim the political center has so far yielded little in the way of additional support from the moderates and independents who tend to decide presidential elections.

“The alarms have already gone off in the Democratic grass roots,” said Robert Zimmerman, a member of the Democratic National Committee from New York, who hopes the president’s jobs plan can be a turning point. “If the Obama administration hasn’t heard them, they should check the wiring of their alarm system...”

“He should have given [the jobs speech] earlier,” said Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan.

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said, “He’s got to engage, make the contrast and occasionally be combative.”

It's nice of the traditional media to finally take notice of what's really going on out there. This revolt from the base, combined with lack of enthusiasm from reliable Democratic voters, has been many months in the making. It began with the cave on ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, continued to gain steam throughout each subsequent battle that saw the President attempt to compromise with the right wing, and has culminated with a mixture of fury and despair with the debt ceiling austerity debacle.

It will also be interesting to discover how the Obama Administration's fiercest defenders will spin this article. Some will dismiss is as the New York Times doing a hack job on Democrats for the benefit of Republicans, which is about the equivalent of putting one's head in the sand politically speaking. It will be interesting to hear Administration defenders tar Peter DeFazio, Elijah Cummings, John Dingell and Sherrod Brown as whining "emo progressives" desperately seeking attention. Maxine Waters is apparently already on their hit list for daring to criticize the Administration's approach. Soon it appears that just about everyone this side of Joe Lieberman will be an insufficiently supportive self-aggrandizing Democrat.

But what has to be the most galling is the incredibly stupid stubbornness from Administration officials:

At the White House and at Mr. Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago, officials bristled at the critiques, which they dismissed as familiar intraparty carping and second-guessing that would give way to unity and enthusiasm once the nation is facing a clear choice between the president and the Republican nominee.

Jim Messina, the campaign manager for the president’s re-election, said the criticism was largely a “Washington conversation” that did not match up with the on-the-ground enthusiasm for Mr. Obama among his network of supporters.

That's really precious. If Democratic activist bloggers complain about Administration policies and tactics, then they're irrelevant, impatient cheetos-munching hippies of the "professional left." If Democratic National Committee members complain, it's just "intraparty carping and second-guessing." And if it's Democratic Congresspersons complaining, it's labeled an irrelevant "Washington conversation." In other words, there may be Democrats complaining, but no true Democrat.

There are three possibilities here: one is that Administration officials are as willfully blind about the severity of their problem with the Democratic base as they have been with the severity of the economic disaster and the severity of Republican opposition to compromise of any sort. If true, then Democrats are staring into the face of a big defeat in 2012, and the reality of a President Romney or Perry.

The second is that the Administration is aware of their problem with the base, and putting the bravest face on it they can by pretending it doesn't exist. If so, they're only going to make the problem worse.

The third is that the Administration is right that the vast majority of Democratic activists and voters will be so afraid of the Republican nominee that they'll jump on board regardless. This is the least likely possibility: many of the activists like myself will probably hunker down and glumly do their duty because they know more than anyone how devastating a Perry/Romney presidency would be, but many will not. And a great many of the less-informed voters themselves will stay home regardless. But it's also the most troublesome, because it means that progressive Democrats have a Hobson's choice: support a standard-bearer who openly mocks them, their passionate beliefs and their very existence, or allow a Romney/Perry presidency to destroy everything they've spent their lives working for. That dynamic will make mincemeat of Democratic Party activism for years to come, and Administration officials seem to be utterly unfazed by that prospect, if they're even aware of it.

No matter which of these three possibilities is the real one, the answer for good Democrats remains the same: build progressive infrastructure, use the primary system to evict Blue Dogs and elect progressive Democrats at all levels from hyper-local to Congressional, and make damn sure that we have a reliable Democratic candidate who respects the Democratic base to take office in 2016, no matter who wins in 2012.