Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Outgoing Ohio governor Ted Strickland thinks his fellow Democrats have an "elitism" problem, by which he means this:

... "I think there is a hesitancy to talk using populist language," the Ohio Democrat said in a sit-down interview with The Huffington Post. "I think it has to do with a sort of intellectual elitism that considers that kind of talk is somehow lacking in sophistication. I'm not sure where it comes from. But I think it's there. There's an unwillingness to draw a line in the sand."

... Talking, unprompted, about the debate over the expiring Bush tax cuts, Strickland said he was dumbfounded at the party's inability to sell the idea that the rates for the wealthy should be allowed to expire.

"I mean, if we can't win that argument we might as well just fold up," he said. "These people are saying we are going to insist on tax cuts for the richest people in the country and we don't care if they are paid for, and we don't think it is a problem if it contributes to the deficit, but we are not going to vote to extend unemployment benefits to working people if they aren't paid for because they contribute to the deficit. I mean, what is wrong with that? How can it be more clear?" ...

I agree with what The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn says about this, but I don't think he covers all the reasons Democrats struggle, nor does he answer Strickland's question "How can it be more clear?" Cohn:

I'm not sure "intellectual elitism" is really the big problem here. Ideology has a lot do with it: The Senate Democratic caucus, in particular, includes a lot of relatively conservative members. Campaign finance is also to blame: Even some more liberal Democrats spend a lot of time palling around with wealthy contributors who complain about their tax burden.

The wimp factor is also a problem. Many Democrats are simply too scared to fight right now. They think the merits of arguments don't make a difference--that, between Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, they just can't win media arguments anymore.

But it isn't just Limbaugh and Fox -- it's The Washington Post and CNN and the rest of the mainstream media as well. It's a body of conventional wisdom that's shared in the Beltway by politicians and mainstream journalists alike.

The conventional wisdom says, first, that Democrats were in the wilderness from '68 through the time they figured out that they had to abandon "doctrinaire liberalism" -- 1992. Everyone in the Beltway believes that narrative. Everyone believes that Bill Clinton's DLC-ism got them back in the game in '92 -- and then he had to be brought back into the fold after he went dangerously liberal in his first two years. Democrats always fail when they're liberal, according to this narrative. Obama, Pelosi, and Reed just proved it again in the past two years.

That's the story Democrats hear from the press -- and the press makes the story self-fulfilling by reporting any attempt (or even proposal) to go liberal, by anyone in D.C. on any issue whatsoever, as an act of folly, one that Heartland America is certain to reject.

And because Heartland America is always told that liberalism is folly, Heartland America continues to associate liberalism with folly. And then Fox and Limbaugh pile on.

Democrats are wimps and cowards and pawns of plutocrats. But they're also victims of this narrative. They should have the integrity and the cojones to defy it. But it shouldn't be the ingrained narrative that it is.

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