Capitol Idea: Just Who Do We Want To Punish?

This last year saw massive economic stimulus, contentious healthcare reform, persistently record levels of unemployment, birth of the anti-government “tea party” movement and activists who have taken to court Barack Obama’s very right to serve as president.

So the fact that this year voters are angry and “want to throw all the bums out” in this year’s midterm elections shouldn’t come as a terrible shock to the political world.

What is at least somewhat surprising is that that animosity is shared in an almost equal measure on the left side of President Obama‘s Democratic Party as it is among American conseratives.

The liberal blogosphere over time has come to function as something of a ledger that keeps a real-time accounting of the Left’s growing dissatisfaction with Obama as president, and with much of the work of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi running Congress.

Using epithets such as “corporatist,” “militarist,” and worse, a coterie of progressive commentators denounce these Democatic leaders with invective that differs from that used by the Right only in terminolgy reflective of an opposite point on the political spectrum — but same in its disdain.

These progressives have lost faith in Obama over the direction of healthcare reform, particularly the loss of the government-run public option. They opposed his surge of U.S. troops in the war in Afghanistan. They reviled his support for various corporate bailouts. They disagree with his appointment of nominees seen too close to business or the Republican Party for their liking. And today they will add a new criticism to the roster, while tomorrow they find another.

Having held onto these resentments, fueled by a powerful sense of being taken for granted, these progressives want to see Obama, Pelosi and Reid punished for their transgressions. They have to come to see this year’s elections as their first, best (perhaps only?) means to achieve retrbution.

Voices on the Left — be they Internet commentators, union leaders, or others — have begun to warn these leaders they feel have so betrayed them that they feel so discouraged and dispirited that they very well may just stay home when it comes to Election Day.

The clear implication is that these disaffected progressives will sit on their hands and, if a bunch of Democrats just go down to defeat, well, that’ just too darn bad. They’ll say Obama and his militaristic, corporatist friends will have no one but themselves to blame.

This protest may offer some brief emotional satisfaction, but otherwise would do more damage to the causes and issues the progressives claim to care about.

My point here is not to defend the array of policy choices Obama and the others have made. I doubt that I would have the bandwidth even available to me to allow me to rebut all of the countless aspersions cast on Obama, and the others — even if I wanted to.

If you don’t care for Obama, Reid and Pelosi, then so be it, I am not going to try to change your mind. (Also, to be clear: I do not work for, nor represent, any candidate, campaign committee, or any political organization.)

I would simply ask you to consider: If, through intentional inaction on the Left, Democrats across the board go down to defeat, just who really would be punished?

It wouldn’t be Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi — that much is true. To be sure, depending on their depth, the losses could frustrate — even stymie their plans for current and future legislation.

But at the end of the day, don’t doubt that even if a self-inflicted implosion of Democrats were to lead Obama, Pelosi and Reid to be ultimately turned out of office at some point, they wouldn’t be “punished” in any meaningful way. They still would have their pensions, and all would go on to other jobs, or a comfortable retirement giving speeches, writing books, and the like. They wouldn’t be left wanting, or hurt in any way that truly matters.

It’s the rest of us that I’m worried about. Democrats that lose this year, by and large, aren’t going to be replaced by other, more acceptable Democrats.

No, Democrats losing means Republicans will be winning.

I fully realize that discontented progressives at this point likely will accuse me of buying into, and even advancing, a “lesser evils” argument.

If so, so be it. I plead guilty as charged!

Have you seen the crowd knocking on the doors of government looking to get let in? These are not moderate Republicans looking to get elected. These are hardcore social and economic conservatives.

By looking at the calendar, we’ve turned to a new decade. But if people elect candidates backed by these “tea party” folks, it will feel like the deepest depths of the Bush administration all over again — if not worse. The 1994 Republican revolution that led to government shutdowns and more will appear to have been entirely middle of the road by comparison.

No one is asking you to like Barack Obama anymore. But, my progressive friends, please let reality set in. Sometimes, things really do come down to a lesser of evils.

If you truly believe the nation would be better off with conservative Republicans like Scott Brown of Massachusetts getting elected to write our laws, then please feel free to disagree with me.

[Cross posted from On The Hill: The publisher of On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered government and Washington for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington.]

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4 Responses to Capitol Idea: Just Who Do We Want To Punish?

  1. While many (even most) of your points are valid (see my last paragraph), the tone of this article devolves pretty often into

    (1) self-righteous; into

    (2) baldly stereotypical characterizations of some homogenized mass of critics in the abstract; into

    (3) arrogant assumptions that this homogenous mass of critics want to “punish” Obama, Reid, and Pelosi; into

    (4) a smug dismissal of any possibility for constructive criticism that could actually empower Obama and the Dems; and into

    (5) an offhanded wave at the potential worth of critics’ concerns regarding activities of our Democratic leadership in D.C.

    All you had to do was merely acknowledge that it’s at least remotely possible that a responsible Dem would have valid concerns worthy of examination. That simple act of respect would go far to quell overreactions from critics long enough for them to hear your truly essential message (as I understand it).

    To paraphrase/restate the crucial point I believe you made so well in this article:

    Give up on the Dems, or the quasi-Democratic process, and you WILL have Republicans running the country again. For those who see NO difference between the Bush Administration and Obama’s administration, this discussion will have no meaning. But for those who aren’t yet ready to cede control back to the GOP, you gotta just swallow hard and do what it takes to keep Dems in power.

  2. Vincent Metal says:

    I know this is going to sound crazy, maybe even a little heretical, but if we don’t want the democrats to keep doing things the way they are, and we don’t want the republicans handling things, why not just vote for a different party all together? I think this whole idea that there are only two political parties may be the a symptom of the disease that quite clearly infests our current politcal arena.

  3. Vincent Metal: Thanks for your tweet, and directing my attention to your entirely reasonable thoughts on third parties. Our system of two parties isn’t a gold standard, that’s for sure. And other prosperous, industrialized nations DO have coalition governments. Not sure why we’re stuck with a reductionist, crude representational system in an increasingly complex age with numerous, divergent constituencies. But we are.

    There’s no heresy in what you’re saying. But how do you propose we get from theory, or ideology, to actual practice? A splinter faction of voters pioneering into a few alternative (third, fourth, fifth) parties simply dilutes the Democrats, and results in a sort of “hung jury” or abdication of power to a monstrously non-sympatico political party, as opposed to a largely non-sympatico political party.

    The only way I can see this third-party voter exodus working is to get committments from such huge masses of defecting voters that the new party has at least an equivalent chance of decisively winning an election as the Dems and Republicans.

    Otherwise, it’s just fancy publicity, or 3D press. In my heart, I absolutely reject “voting for the lesser of two evils.” In my heart, I believe passionately in going with one’s values and embracing that third party, and the hell with the rest of the befuddled, immutable world. But in my adult thinking center, I know that defection to a third party in a key election is a gift to Republicans.

    Obama isn’t going to systemically revolutionize our government, ridding it of opacity, lobbyists, oil wars, corruption, bribery, and corporate power over all three branches. But he’s miles ahead of Bush, regardless of inevitable disappointments I may have with ultimate outcomes in terms of his policy and legislation.

    To sum it up, membership in a third party – at this point in our history – is a piss poor way to communicate our displeasure with the Dems. Why? Because your vote is subtracted from the Dems, and implicitly (by default) a gift to the Republicans. Your vote is reduced to an unintentional giveaway, a wasted throwaway.

    Sorry to be so long-winded and verbose; couldn’t sleep so I drank a mug of black expresso!

  4. Vincent Metal says:

    I see what your are saying about dilluting the pool. But this coming down to “a vote for a third party is a wasted vote” seems to me a bigger problem than any other we face. We have convinced ourselves of that there is truth in this adage. Thus we have taken into doctrine a logical fallacy, a false dichotomy. Enough of us didn’t buy it when it was, “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists.” I have faith that we can overcome this faulty way of thinking again. If not, then simply sit back and enjoy the show, because it’s not going to matter who our president is. We can’t fix the flawed politcal structure when we don’t fix the flawed social structure that supports it.