Friday, September 3, 2010

The enthusiasm gap

Steve Benen ponders it:

If you're reading this blog, you're probably significantly more engaged than the typical voter, so other examples -- Robert Gibbs' comments about the "professional left," the defeat of the public option, annoyance with Rahm Emanuel in general, frustration on judicial nominees, the administration's disappointing record on civil liberties in the context of national security -- likely come to mind to explain progressive disillusionment. But like Adam, I suspect these developments are noticed in far more detail among actively engaged voters, and occur under the radar of folks in general, most of whom don't keep up on current events at the granular level.

Of course, if Adam's assessment is correct, and I think it is, then there's just not much to be done between now and November. Major liberal initiatives are highly unlikely to be approved over the next 59 days, and the economy almost certainly won't see dramatic improvements. A party goes into an election season with the broader circumstances it has, not the broader circumstances it wants or wishes to have at a later time.

But there's one aspect of this that I struggle to wrap my head around. In campaign politics, there's always been one major drawback to playing exclusively to the base, and it has nothing to do with alienating the "middle." It's the risk of a backlash from the other side. If Republicans, for example, cater exclusively to the desires of right-wing lunatics, rank-and-file Democratic voters will see this and think, "Hey, I'm starting to feel more motivated all the time...." At least, that's the theory.

I really wish I knew the answer to that last one. And I'll agree that the Emanuelesque disdain for liberals is certainly coming through from, well, Rahm Emanuel. But what about the effect of almost all the major progressive outlets--DKos, HuffPo, the MSNBC crew--never missing a chance to dump all over Obama? Look, I think that this has been really stupid on all sides. The White House could have given these outlets a few interviews to these guys here and there, made them feel like part of the team, and that would probably have gone a long way to keeping everything going smoothly. How hard would that be? Not hard, I'm guessing. Not being listened to makes people angry. But ultimately you'd think the people who worked the hardest to get Bush out would want to actually see things get done and reap the rewards of their labor. That hasn't really happened, though, and at times it's seemed as if many of these people don't care what actually happens, so long as the right doesn't win, which has led to numerous symbolic fights that accomplished little. And now you have Arianna stuffing all sorts of passive-aggressive Obama snipes into a little post about the White House redecoration when her main page is almost a comic example of their Obama Insufficiency Syndrome. It's almost as if they can't help themselves.

And here's the thing: I don't agree with everything Obama has done. I really don't. On many matters I'd probably agree with, say, a Glenn Greenwald. If I were Obama I'd have done things plenty differently (such as pushing EFCA through back when there were 60 votes for it, for one), but I'm not him, so I try my best to understand what he's doing and support him when I can. But by not giving way to reality on, I don't know, the public option fight or even assuming the administration's good faith on financial regulatory reform, these outlets have set up a dynamic where the White House feels they need to do battle against the "professional left" to get anything done instead of working with them, and it just mutes the effectiveness of criticism from the left when it matters most. That Gibbs quote annoyed me (isn't it his job not to say stupid things?), but the thing that angered people the most was that he was basically right, and it's hypocritical for the likes of Kos to say that they are trying to apply aggressive pressure to Obama from the left on nearly every issue and then complain that the Administration feels they need to work against them. There's a cognitive disconnect in there that I find inscrutable. Not to mention that that whole "we're shifting the Overton Window" idea appears to be bad for business and demoralizing to readers. But I'm sure it generates interest from the mainstream press! I hear they just love conflict stories.

Now, as always, top progressives need to get over themselves. Might not do much in the short term, but for next time...

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.