Why Aren't Liberals More Effective?

Limping along in Congress and in society

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Democrats may control the White House and both houses of Congress, but how are liberals doing? According to liberal pundits, American liberals -- meaning both the leftward wing of the Democratic party and the self-identified 20 percent of Americans -- aren't effective enough in U.S. politics. Why?

  • Liberalism Is Dead  For the cover story of Harper's, Kevin Baker announces that, by the end of President Obama's first year, "No other president in our history has so thoroughly spurned his political base in so short a time." Accusing Obama of serving conservative generals and bankers over the liberals who elected him, Baker dismisses the counter-arguments that "Republican obstructionism" or "an essentially conservative nation" are to blame. Long-besieged liberals have given in to "the state known as learned helplessness," he says, and have not been pushing Obama hard enough. This "hapless fatalism" has crippled liberalism as we know it, which must be rebuilt:
There is no longer any meaningful reformist impulse left in our politics. The idea of modern American liberalism has vanished among our elite, and simply voting for one man or supporting one of the two major parties will not restore it. The work will have to be done from the ground up, and it will have to be done by us.
  • Libs Have to Learn Negotiation  Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias explains that liberals can't credibly negotiate on, say, health care reform, because everyone knows that reform is "something progressives really want to do." However, wavering moderates can credibly negotiate because everyone believes they're willing to walk away. Yglesias says liberals should find issues for which "the tables are turned and progressives may be willing to go along but centrists are the eager ones." This would finally give them some negotiating power with centrists, who have proven more skillful.
  • Libs Don't Push Obama--Just Pretend  Liberal blogger Chris Bowers asks, "Why do conservative Democrats hold more sway over the party's policy than progressives?" Bowers says Congressional liberals come from areas that are highly enamored with President Obama, so they expect their representative to support the president. The White House sees every liberal attempt at pressuring Obama as a bluff, and so far they've been proven absolutely right.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.