Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Boll Weevils and their damage done, plus where do we go from here?

Josh Marshall acidly notes, "Thinking that decision to punt on the tax cut debate was simply brilliant move by the Democrats," which seems to have produced some sort of karmic justice since the Blue Dogs' size was diminished by more than half, and their organization seems to have been completely decapitated, leadership-wise. But even more important than their relative presence within the caucus is that their composition has changed dramatically. Most of the surviving Blue Dogs actually voted for health care reform, which is because most of them represent districts that could easily support sending a more liberal Democrat to Congress. I mean, someone like Dan Boren (OK) or Jim Matheson (UT) is probably irreplaceable at this point in time, but people like Dennis Cardoza and Jane Harman of California and Jim Cooper of Tennessee could easily be primaried if they move too far to the right, and their opponent would likely win the general election, so they can't get too conservative. One would think this more common dynamic would make the Blue Dogs somewhat less aggressive in intraparty policy debates, but we'll see. In the long run, of course, the Boren/Matheson wing is going to be eroded away slowly with every election as people select representatives increasingly based on party affiliation, which is only right and proper. We merely need to adjust our institutions accordingly to reflect this way of thinking and voting.

Of course, the lesson that Democrats will undoubtedly take from this election cycle was that they got too liberal and ambitious. It's simply the nature of the Democratic Party on an elite level, one that simply isn't really in touch with its supporters (or, at this point, the electorate). But I think that there are a number of ways Obama could ease the bad blood among the electorate that don't involve substantive policy changes. For example, having Geithner step down would be a good symbolic way of letting the public know he understands their anger about the bailouts, sort of like how Bush "got" 2006 by letting Rumsfeld go (which, admittedly, didn't help him in the long run). Picking someone like Warren Buffett to take his place might or might not be a good idea--it might seem a little gimmicky--but he's someone the average person knows and it would probably be well-received, and it could buy some goodwill from the business community. At this point, a little symbolism could go a long way, and set a tone for the next two years. I also think it would be smart of Obama to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a job in the government, probably Cabinet-level. There are a couple of reasons why this wouldn't be a good idea--like most Californians, I haven't been too hot about his tenure as governor--but what this White House has been quite poor at so far has been in finding articulate, effective spokesmen who can command attention to its policies. Whatever one can say about Arnold, I'm pretty sure that the spectacle of him joining Obama's cabinet would command a lot of press wattage, and he'd sure generate a lot more interest in what the government is doing were he to regularly feature on the Sunday morning circuit. Plus, you're telling me that you don't want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger yelling at Mitch McConnell at 8:45 AM? I'd actually pay good money to see that.

Also, I think Obama has to act quickly to give Russ Feingold an important position. Feingold is a progressive hero, and his defeat was a big blow last night. Obama giving him a key role should buy him some goodwill among the left, and it will keep him tied over should he want to take back his old seat next time around. He's still young enough to do it! Obama probably should offer one to Sestak too, though I'd be willing to bet Sestak just runs for his old House seat in 2012 and gets ready to fight Pat Toomey next time. When one considers that Toomey really underperformed other Republicans on the ballot and his own lofty poll numbers--only winning by 2% in a state that easily elected a new Republican governor and turned out a handful of Dem House incumbents--the most obvious interpretation is that Toomey benefited from the outsized senior turnout and would not have won without it. Essentially the same thing happened in 1994, when Rick Santorum won the state's other Senate seat. The bad news for Republicans is that in sixteen years from now, Pennsylvania will not have a Senate seat up for grabs, so it will be difficult to squeeze an extreme right-winger in there when President Tim Ryan (D-OH) goes through the same thing as Obama and Clinton did.

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.