Monday, April 07, 2008


Writing for The Guardian, Michael Tomasky says he sees the end of an era. I hope so, though I'm not sure:

...there are two people who appear ready to stand by [Mark] Penn, hell or high water, and they are the two who matter: Bill and Hillary Clinton. Penn joined Bill Clinton in the mid-90s, after the early woes (gays in the military, healthcare), and he kept the president on the ideological middle ground. He did the same for Hillary while overseeing her 2000 Senate campaign. In the course of these experiences, both Clintons came to swear by Penn's advice. They saw his gift for numbers and demographic analysis, but they failed to grasp his obvious weak point.

Pennism is a kind of Democratic politics that one could argue was right for an era of conservative dominance: take few risks, and move as far to the centre and even right as possible so you couldn't be labelled soft on defence or wobbly on support for the free market.

But George Bush and Karl Rove have seen to it that, after Iraq and Katrina and the US attorneys scandal and now a real-life recession, we are no longer in an era of conservative dominance. We're not in an era of liberal dominance either, of course, but we are in a place where, for the first time in a very long time, conservatism has discredited itself, and more Americans are open to progressive alternatives....

That's close to the truth -- right-wing dominance is somewhat in decline (though, in my opinion, less than Tomasky thinks). And, yes, obviously the ascent of the left hasn't happened yet.

The problem is, even after Iraq and Katrina and a financial meltdown spread by underregulated plutocrats, too much of the public still doesn't understand that conservatism/Republicanism is the problem. To paraphrase James Carville, the right is drowning, but no one has thrown it an anvil -- no one has done a good job of pointing the finger at the right and saying, "You don't like the status quo? There's the source of your problem."

I'm saying this and yet I voted for Barack Obama, who says he wants to bring us all together, not assess blame. Why? Well, I threw in my lot with Obama when it became a two-person race -- and with regard to the other person, I essentially agree with Barbara O'Brien, who says in response to the Tomasky piece:

Tomasky's column sums up my biggest concern about Senator Clinton. If Clinton becomes president, I fear she will continue the famous "triangulation" pattern that assumes the Right still controls public opinion, and progressivism will have missed a huge opportunity.

That's it. I'm afraid Clinton would tack to the right as president, reinforcing the notion that liberals are evil. (And it wouldn't placate the right, of course.) Hell, I'm not sure she wouldn't tack to the right as a general-election candidate.

Obama doesn't see the problem the way I see it -- but maybe his approach is the one that would be most effective now. When he calls for an end to politics based on attacks and character assassination, he's trying to rally the country against a style of politics the Repuiblican Party has practiced much, much more successfully than Democrats have. If a pox-on-both-your-houses message makes the country less receptive to Limbaughism/Rovism/Atwaterism, well, I'll take that. And if Obama really can get across the message "Don't pay attention to the haters -- let's try this," and "this" is an essentially progressive agenda, that's a pretty big advance. But it's a big if.

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