As he demands Congress quickly approve his ambitious proposal aimed at reviving the sagging economy, many Democrats on Capitol Hill appear far from sold that the president has the right antidote to spur major job growth and turn around their party's political fortunes."Terrible," Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) told POLITICO when asked about the president's ideas for how to pay for the $450 billion price tag. "We shouldn't increase taxes on ordinary income. ... There are other ways to get there.""That offset is not going to fly, and he should know that," said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu from the energy-producing Louisiana, referring to Obama's elimination of oil and gas subsidies. "Maybe it's just for his election, which I hope isn't the case.""I think the best jobs bill that can be passed is a comprehensive long-term deficit-reduction plan," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), discussing proposals to slash the debt by $4 trillion by overhauling entitlement programs and raising revenue through tax reforms. "That's better than everything else the president is talking about -- combined."
A few things to note about this, which speak to the depth of the structural issue here. One is that Delaware is not a conservative state. Nor is it a swing state. The Democratic presidential candidate won there in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. President Obama got 62 percent of the vote there. And even so, Carper is attacking the president's jobs agenda from the right. What's more, I think the most plausible possible account of this is that Carper genuinely believes that the best jobs bill that can be passed is a comprehensive long-term deficit-reduction plan because if he's not expressing a sincerely held belief, it's a bit hard to see the political angle here.Now on to Webb and Landrieu, what strikes me about their remarks is that they're being mean. Webb isn't respectfully disagreeing with the administration's proposed offsets, he's calling them "terrible." Landrieu is calling the sincerity of the president's motives into question. For me, it's difficult to imagine parallel behavior on the other side. Conservative states sometimes elect wishy-washy moderate Democratic senators, but when North Dakota or Alabama sends a Republican to Washington, they send a solid conservative. And while your Scott Browns and Olympia Snowes sometimes don't vote with the party leadership, they rarely attack the leadership in quasi-personal terms. They don't suggest that Mitch McConnell has "terrible" ideas that he's pursuing for low political reasons.
The other day Tavis Smiley made the point that president's job plan didn't go far enough. I'd bet a lot of progressives concur and I think pushing the point is healthy, legitimate, essential and fair. But it's also healthy, legitimate, essential and fair to then ask, "What would make more progressive legislation possible?" That line of thinking has to confront the kind of statements and action by Democratic Senators who evidently feel little or no pressure from their progressive base.
One of the reasons why I've harped on the "flying while brownish" series is because I think liberals are much more comfortable attacking whoever seems to hold the most power, and much less comfortable examining the power of the "weak," as well as the power that they, themselves, wield. Power confers responsibility. In evading the notion that citizenship in a democracy confers power, you also evade the notion that it confers responsibility. It's comforting to believe in a narrative of liberal "betrayal," to argue that the game is rigged in such a way that the Hippie-punchers always win.
It's also pretty cynical.
Tom Carper mouthing off from the comfortable environs of blue Delaware is a failure of Team Commie to be regarded as serious political force. People who talk of primarying Obama need to pick smaller targets--and thus elicit bigger results.
But being taken seriously involves actual work. It means a poverty tour that doesn't just bark (Obama the black mascot) but bites (voter registration in swing districts.) If you don't like the current iteration of America, you need to remember that you are America. The failure to build a more progressive America isn't merely a testimony to dastardly evil, it's a testimony to the failure of progressives.
If you're a progressive and you feel that the political system isn't doing what you want, it's misguided to look at this as a personal failure of elected officials. It's, if anything, a personal failure of you and people like you. Justice and equality doesn't just happen because it's nice, people need to make it happen. If it's not happening, then its advocates are failing.
Somehow we got in our head that the Civil Rights movement happened because Martin Luther King was a really nice guy. We don't really talk about the movement as an actual force, as applying force. We don't think about what SNCC was really trying to do when they were risking their lives to register voters in the delta. When we think about people trying to kill them we think about evil, but we should think about power and fear.
Matt offers two suggestions on tangible steps forward. Someone in his comment thread noted that people should list more. I'd like to be presumptuous and follow that advice here. It's not like we don't have success in our recent past. It's generally taken as true that gay marriage is coming to America. How did that happen? Is there anything to be learned there? What can be done beyond thin complaints about Obama's tone?
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