Governing from the center.

In a post on Huffington Post, Mark Penn warns, “Democrats should move quickly to back the president on the tax bill or risk turning themselves into a minority party in Congress for a long time to come.” I mentioned yesterday that Penn’s use of polling data in this piece is disingenuous; today I want to look at another claim he makes.

Obama has now gone down a path he cannot and should not retreat from — governing from the center. That is why he was elected and the only way he will be reelected. Democrats in Congress, by their actions, are labeling themselves the “pro-spending” and “pro-tax party” and distancing themselves from the president in all the wrong ways.

The problem with governing from the center is that the center is a moving target. There’s no point in talking any more about “left” and “right” in America. “Right” means the ideals and programs of Ronald Reagan, and “left” usually means a slightly more humane version of Reaganism. American politics keeps drifting farther and farther in the direction of Reaganism and ever farther away from Progressivism. The Republicans keep getting more extreme; they have become a bizarre caricature of themselves, a party that neither Dwight D. Eisenhower nor Barry Goldwater would have recognized or embraced — a party that might have surprised even Richard Nixon. The Democratic response is not to hold the Progressive line, or to stand on any principles whatsoever. Instead, they follow obediently behind the Republicans.

Democratic strategists have the idea that Republicans are successful because the American people love their ideas, when the truth is that Americans love Republican ideas because Republicans are shameless liars and hucksters who know how to sell their ideas convincingly. Our corporate media are a great help to them, of course, but the problem isn’t the media or the fact that Republicans are better salesmen. The problem is that nobody in any position of power gives the American people any alternatives. If Democrats were half as passionate about their supposed ideals as the Republicans are, and half as articulate as the Republicans are, then we might have a fight. Unfortunately, the bloodless and gutless “liberals” who dominate the Democratic Party have no passion and hence no ability to convince anyone of anything.

Thinking the people love Republican ideas, which are the only ideas ever presented to the public in any coherent fashion, the Democrats attempt to play politics by tacking toward Reaganism. You can’t do anybody any good if you can’t win elections, right? Republicans win elections. Therefore, liberals, if they want to do anybody any good, need to be more like Republicans. So the Democrats do their best impressions of Republicans in a vain attempt to get the people to love them, but the problem is that you can never out-Republican the Republicans. If you say ketchup is a vegetable, they’ll say Kool-Aid is a fruit. If you say trees cause air pollution, they’ll say carbon monoxide is good for the lungs. If you say you want to run up deficits to give billions of dollars to billionaires, they’ll castigate you for not giving trillions.

Try as they might to catch up with the Republican descent deeper and deeper into madness, the Democrats will always finish a pale and distant second. All they accomplish for their efforts is the validation, in the public mind, of the bullshit the Republicans are selling. And because the Democrats are gutless and passionless, the “center” keeps moving more and more towards Reagan, and is now set to move past Reagan into short-sighted and dangerous extremes that even Reagan never dreamed of.

Of course, all this serves the purposes of people like Mark Penn. Penn is the CEO of Burson-Marsteller, a “message” firm that has named Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Union Carbide among its clients. For Penn, politics is about two things: the corporate oligarchy and appearances. Keep shoveling money out to the rich, and manipulate the message to make it appear that you’re doing something else. He even trots out that canard about the liberals declaring “class warfare” on the rich, when in fact it’s people like Penn and his clients who have declared class warfare on the poor and the middle class. He warns:

The Democrats — and Obama in particular — were on their way to becoming the party of the upwardly mobile professionals making over $100,000 in income, especially young professionals. This was one of the party’s fastest growing constituencies. This was evident in the 2008 election returns as Obama got 49 percent (tying McCain here) of the voters earning over $100,000 and a majority 52% of the voters in households earning over $200,000. And this has become no small group — $100k households were 26 percent of the 2008 electorate — up from just 9 percent in 1996.

The message is clear: Screw those losers in the bottom seventy-four percent.

I saw a video the other day of a young preacher named Joshua Akins. The reason I saw it is that people have been making fun of him. This young man is a Baptist preacher in Alabama. He’s got a Deep South, country accent. He slings off his jacket while he’s preaching. He hollers and struts around the church. He leaps up on pews, turns red in the face, and shakes his finger at the congregation. I wish I could embed the video here, but embedding is disabled, presumably because so many people have been making fun of him. Do me a favor and go look at the video on YouTube; it’s only a few minutes long.

Joshua Akins- “What Are You Addicted To?”

It’s easy to make fun of this young man, and frankly, I think his religion is nonsense. But he’s got something the Democrats don’t have — something they desperately need. He’s got fire. He’s got passion and conviction. He doesn’t believe what I believe, but by God, he believes in something, and he’s not ashamed to get up and say so.

The Democrats would do well to watch Josh Akins. They can learn a lot from him. If the Democratic Party had half the fire Josh Akins has, maybe they’d be able to get something done. But they don’t, and I don’t have much hope that they’ll discover any fire inside, either. What we can expect instead is more and more scrambling to reach that elusive center — that fast-moving, Reaganist “center.”

But tell me, as long as they intend to govern from that kind of center, why in the hell should any progressive vote for them? Because they’re the lesser of two evils? Just wait till next year; they’ll be right where the Republicans are now. In two years, they’ll be where the Republicans are going to be next year. Is that what you want, progressives? Are you really willing to stand in line and vote for that?

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4 Responses to Governing from the center.

  1. A couple observations. First, When Obama was running for office, he ran significantly left of where he is today and the people responded with immense enthusiasm, huge crowds, and a record turn out. I believe that shows the people themselves will support a Progressive candidate — and might even hunger for one.

    Second, a state or phase wherein one lacks all conviction is not necessarily the end of the story. A few years ago, I myself might have been fairly described as lacking convictions. Today, I am far more passionate in my convictions than I’ve ever been. The difference has been little more than a bit of education about what’s going on in the world. So, I think there is some hope that the lack of conviction we see in today’s Democrats will change for the better.

  2. On the other hand, here’s Chris Hedges on the issue:

    “All energy directed toward reforming political and state structures is useless. All efforts to push through a “progressive” agenda within the corridors of power are naive. Trust in the reformation of our corporate state reflects a failure to recognize that those who govern, including Barack Obama, are as deaf to public demands and suffering as those in the old Communist regimes. We cannot rely on any systems of power, including the pillars of the liberal establishment—the press, liberal religious institutions, universities, labor, culture and the Democratic Party. They have been weakened to the point of anemia or work directly for the corporations that dominate our existence. We can rely now on only ourselves, on each other.”

  3. Maybe I’m naive but I disagree that the power structure can’t change. If it couldn’t, the powers-that-be wouldn’t be working so hard to spread their bullshit propaganda — to persuade the very people they are screwing royally.

    The people still have power. Complacency is the enemy. And complacency encompasses a lack of willingness to be self-educated about the state of things in this country. When things are going well and most people can pay their bills, they’d prefer to not think about “all that political mumbo jumbo” that mostly bores and confuses them. At best, they listen to the pundits who validate their beliefs and do their thinking for them — who tell them what the facts are then interpret those “facts” for them.

    But as more and more people feel the economic pinch caused by the grossly disparate distribution of wealth that will continue if the Republicans have their way, it will likely shake people out of their complacency because they are no longer comfortable. When you struggle just to put bread on your family’s table even though you’re working your ass off it tends to spark an interest in the reasons why that could be.

    On a somewhat related note, it’s amazing how much my opinion of Obama has changed during the past couple of weeks. Now I can hardly stand to listen to his smarmy and disingenuous blurbs broadcast on the “news” every night.

  4. The DV8 says:

    I think power structures can change, and will change. But that doesn’t mean they’ll change for the better. The labor movement failing, progressivism is marginalized, and for many people, “liberal” is still a dirty word. I don’t doubt that people will eventually be shaken out of their complacency. I just hope that results in a popular movement more like the labor movement of 100 to 130 ago, and less like the Tea Party.

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