The Pernicious Influence Of Lefty Blogs

[Ta-Nehisi]

Brent makes a good point about Evan Bayh's "centrism":

...almost the entire problem with Bayh and politicians like him is that the "middle" has nothing to do with staking out policy positions. It has to do with staking out political positions. The Senate isn't being "driven to the poles" on any policy positions. Indeed, despite their majorities, and domination in the last two elections, the Democrats approach has been incrementalist, half-assed, and generally minimal approaches to changing a status quo that genuinely and drastically needs changing. If you, or anybody, has any examples of Dems proposing to do anything, anything at all, that would be to the left of Richard freaking Nixon, I would love to hear about it.

And yet, they are failing, not because they have proposed anything especially radical, but because politicians like Bayh will always reflexively stake out policy positions to the right of whatever is being proposed. Bayh is not as bad as say, Nelson or Lieberman, but he is absolutely part of the problem. He is a walking manifestation of the notion that rather than actually thinking about how to solve problems in a reasonable and efficient way, we must always seek out the "middle ground" even if that ground is quite objectively unreasonable.

To double down, its not so much that he's "centrist," or "moderate," it's that his centrism has no real policy core. I don't know how you support the Bush tax-cuts and style yourself a deficit hawk. Policy-wise, there's nothing "leftist" about being against the Iraq War. But politically-speaking, the anti-war folks were caricatured as  a bunch of hippies who don't understand national security.

The separation between the realms of policy and politics may not be practical, but it is helpful in understanding Washington. I think back to when Bayh wanted to convene a bunch of moderate senators to make sure Obama didn't go too far the left. Lefties responded to Bayh felt threatened. To which Bayh responded:

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is also unhappy with the friendly fire. Bayh announced last week that a group of centrist Democrats had come together to negotiate as a bloc with the White House and party leaders on major legislation. He promptly found himself targeted by an ad accusing him of "standing in the way of President Obama's reforms."

"We literally have no agenda," Bayh shot back. "How can they be threatened by a group that has taken no policy positions?"

I think Bayh thought this was a defense--but speaking for myself, and I think a lot of progressives, it's actually the problem. If you think about the Obama White House, and the influence that centrist Dems have had over policy, I'm not sure what Bayh would have wanted to argue about? The debt commission that Obama is about to institute by executive order? The public option which Obama willingly scuttles? The Medicare expansion that he also scuttled? The predator drone strikes which Obama has continued since taking office? The tax-cuts Obama pushed through for the middle class?

I think a lot of progressives would acknowledge that there will be serious, actual policy differences between left and right. I expect Bart Stupak and Ben Nelson to fight to curb abortion access. I don't like it, but I get it. But so often with "centrist" Dems, I feel like I'm just watching people take positions so that they can claim to be moderate/independent because it sounds good. Listening to Blanche Lincoln ask Obama a question during the Senate retreat was horrifying. I didn't get any sense of any deeply-held beliefs. It was just a litany of hippie-punching.

I'll close with Jon Chait on Bayh:

The Washington Post's Jonathan Capeheart calls Evan Bayh's retirement a "brain drain." Hmm. How to out this. I once had the chance, along with numerous other reporters and editors, to speak with Bayh in an off-the-record context. I'd say the group was quite favorably disposed toward him going into the discussion -- here was a young, popular, telegenic moderate Democrat everybody could see on a presidential ticket soon. As far as I could tell, everybody came away thoroughly unimpressed. He said nothing especially disagreeable, it was just that he seemed so mediocre. He expressed himself entirely in terms of platitudes. Not a single interesting thought escaped his lips.

This wasn't a function of him avoiding uncomfortable positions. I've seen smart politicians dance around questions, and this wasn't that. This was just a completely unremarkable man who, had he not been the handsome son of a famous politician, would never in a million years have been a Senator.

As an American, that scares the hell out of me. Perhaps this is too rash, but I think I'd take a conservative with developed beliefs and ideas, which I thought were dead wrong, over the empty vessel with a D next to his name.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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