Monday, October 04, 2010


I often skip Ross Douthat, but I decided to read today's column after seeing it praised in a couple of unlikely corners -- TBogg's blog and Zandar's.

Douthat argues today that centrist Democrats are being hyperbolic when they accuse President Obama of excessive progressivism, and progressives are being equally hyperbolic when they call him a sellout:

Both these arguments are self-serving, of course -- a way for activists on both sides to imply, none too subtly, that the Democrats' dispiriting poll numbers are all the other faction’s fault.

Hmmm ... maybe. But now, of course, Obama is struggling with both groups. Douthat thinks he can bounce back, however -- but here's where I very much disagree with him:

Can Obama rebuild his coalition? Perhaps, but not the way he did the first time. He won the White House by being all things to all Democrats (and quite a few independents and even Republicans as well), by making each faction see its own values reflected in his candidacy.

But the days of soaring above the grubbiness of politics are over. If Obama wants to save his presidency, he may have to do it the old-fashioned way: not by transcending his party's divisions, but by uniting his supporters around their common fears.

The problem is, liberals and centrists don't really have common fears. Oh, sure, each group's fears revolve around Republicans. But here's the difference: We progressives fear what the Republicans will actually do if they gain more power. Centrists fear that Republicans won't ever like them enough.

Zandar says:

That has been the real Republican victory, getting Democrats themselves to lead the way in reducing the Obama agenda to "I don't care for what he has done but at least he's not insane!"

That's what we say on the left, but centrists don't think Republicans are insane -- no matter how extreme Republicans get, centrists think they're just a wee bit over the line. And even that's negotiable -- no, really, let's talk!

We'll never unite. Liberals want to not be Republicans. Centrists want to be the other Republicans.

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