Noonan On Obama, The Democratic Party, And Solidarity
In an incisive and interesting article, columnist Peggy Noonan discusses the Democratic Party’s current course and probable destination. This newsletter considers her remarks to be important enough to warrant a special issue. Here, therefore, is virtually all of her text (indented); what you see is unedited. Only two short introductory paragraphs have been omitted. Please read what she has to say, and consider this newsletter’s rejoinders.
Everyone talks about the tensions between the Republican establishment, such as it is, and the tea-party-leaning parts of its base. But are you looking at what’s happening with the Democrats?
The implication: the Tea Party Movement (TPM) is basically a part of the GOP’s voters. This is not true. Many Tea Partiers are independents, libertarians, and non-voters; the TPM is not a fraction or faction of the GOP. This point will come up again at the end of Noonan’s article.
Tensions between President Obama and his supporters tore into the open this week as never before, signifying a real and developing fracturing of his party. Mr. Obama, in an interview in Rolling Stone, aimed fire at those abandoning him: “It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election.” The Democratic base “sitting on their hands complaining” is “just irresponsible. . . . We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that’s what I said during the campaign. . . . But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”
Obama is correct: few were as serious about his restructuring of government, economics and constitutional principles as he was. He’s a true radical.
At first I thought this was another example of the president’s now-habitual political ineptness, his off-key-ness. You don’t diss people into voting for you, you can’t lecture them into love. The response from the left was fierce, unapologetic — and accusatory. Mr. Obama had let them down, he’d taken half measures. “Stop living in that bubble,” shot back an activist on cable. But Jane Hamsher of the leftist blog Firedoglake saw method, not madness. She described the president’s remarks as “hippie punching” and laid them to cynical strategy: “It’s about setting up a narrative for who will take the blame for a disastrous election.” She said Mr. Obama’s comments themselves could “depress turnout.”
Take the blame? Disastrous? Setting up a narrative?
This isn’t the language of disagreement, the classic to-and-fro between a restive base and politicians who make compromises. This is the language of estrangement. It is the language of alienation.
There is a war beginning in the Democratic Party, and the president has lost control of his base.
Hold on; take a good look at that base. We know that well over 90% of the black folks who voted cast their votes for Obama. The rest of the Obama voters would have voted for virtually any Democrat who scolded the GOP and promised to make things different and better. You know Obama’s victory was not grounded in well-informed enthusiasm. As one might expect from a campaign that takes its electorate for granted, Team Obama repeated empty slogans — hopeandchange, yes we can — rather than put out a lot of hard political proposals. Too, much of what the candidate did say, such as that puzzling business about a national civilian security force as powerful and well-funded as the military, was not adequately reported by a very Obama-friendly press. In a sense, there never has been a large rational base for Obama to stand on.
Accordingly it should surprise no one that Obama’s grip on his voters and on the party machinery is tenuous. The underlying political philosophy of the administration is either unclear or alien, and the unshakably loyal Obama voters are that only because for them, the president’s genetic endowment says it all. That’s not a recipe for continued success in a nation like the USA.
The Democratic leadership in the House appears to have lost another kind of control, fleeing Washington without passing a federal budget or extending even part of the Bush-era tax cuts, which are due to expire on Jan. 1. Democrats hold a solid majority in the House. They have a hitherto-powerful speaker. And the decision to adjourn passed by only a single vote — that of Nancy Pelosi, who saw 39 Democrats join the Republicans in dissenting.
The Democratic Party right now is showing signs of coming apart under the pressure of the election and two years of an unpopular presidency. But it’s not a split in two, with the left versus the establishment. It’s more like a splintering, with left-leaning activists distancing themselves from the party’s politicians, and moderate politicians distancing themselves from Mr. Obama.
And part of what’s driving it is what is driving the evolution of the Republican Party. The Internet changed everything. Everyone has facts now, knows who voted how and why. New thought leaders spring up and lead in new directions. Total transparency leads to party fracturing. Information dings unity. We are in new territory.
Don’t overlook the three paragraphs above, Pilgrims, for they begin with rather trivial truths and conclude with a devastating insight. Information is the key. The Democrats realized that long ago, which is why they and their media lapdogs have pushed The Fairness Doctrine (a way of censoring “wingnut” talk radio) and tried to misrepresent the message of the TPM as racist, Nazi and just a cyclical re-emergence of right-wing fanatacism. That’s all the more reason for every US voter to thank Al Gore for having invented the internet!
Another tornado: The president’s influential counselor, David Axelrod, attempted this week to insinuate into the election what Democrats used to deride as “wedge issues.” In an interview he said abortion will “certainly be an issue,” for Democrats. It will be raised “across the country.”
This suggests a certain desperation. Whatever stand you take on the social issues, you have to be blind to think they will make a big difference this year. The issue this year is the size, role, weight and demands of government, and the public sense that its members selfishly look to their own needs and not those of the country. A GOP congressman told me this week that he very much disagrees with the characterization of tea party and Republican voters as enraged or livid. They are scared, he said. He has never, in two decades in politics, heard so many people tell him they are “scared,” frightened for their own futures and for the future of their country.
No one will get revved in the way Mr. Axelrod hopes who isn’t already a reliable Democratic vote. His raising of a wedge issue speaks not only of a certain cynicism but of what appears to be an endemic White House cluelessness.
Again, correct. The White House is floundering, desperately seeking some way to ease the pressure. Obama is babbling about slavery, as if that topic were some kind of talisman that will keep Congress Democratic. That’s inane. This is the man who keeps that bigot Holder in office, has nationalized one-sixth of the US economy, has plunged your grandchildren into profound debt, and has offended and alienated Uncle Sam’s friends around the world. The pressure will be relentless, for it is the reaction to Obamania.
Yet another tornado: The Democrats have begun what Grover Norquist predicted a month ago. They saved their money for the end of the campaign and have begun running negative ads. They are not speaking in support of their own votes on health care and other issues. They are avoiding the subject of their own votes on health care and other issues. They are focusing instead on accusations of personal scandal. Both parties have done this in the past, to their mutual shame. But this year, with some exceptions and for obvious reasons, it appears to be largely a Democratic game. At this point in history, with America teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, negative advertising is even more destructive, more actually wicked, than it was in the past.
Negative advertising tears everything down. It contributes to the cynicism of the populace, especially the young. It undermines the faith in government Democrats are always asking us to have, by undermining respect for those who govern, or who seek to. It wears everyone down. And in the long term, though this can never be quantified, it keeps from electoral politics untold numbers of citizens who could bring their gifts and guts to helping solve our problems. I will never forget the visionary real-world entrepreneur who sighed, when I once urged him to enter politics, “I’ve lived an imperfect life. They’d kill me.”
But let’s go to what is traditionally the only way journalists and political professionals judge such ads: Do they work? In the past they have. But here’s a hunch: This year they will not be so effective.
The primary reason is the severity of the moment. But another is that negative ads worked so well in the past. For a generation, the American people have been told their politicians are lowlifes. You know what they now think of them? They think they’re lowlifes! People don’t really expect high character from their political figures anymore. “Congressman Smith cheated on his wife.” That’s her problem. Cut my taxes.
Noonan is partly right, partly wrong. Why, one might well ask, did McCain not beat Obama? After all, the kid from Chicago is an empty suit. Fact: McCain’s ethical baggage hurt him badly with a great many people for whom misbehavior in one’s private life says volumes about what he will do in public life.
Good practical advice on all this comes from Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels, who met this week in New York with conservative activists, journalists and historians. Our country is in real peril, he said, we have a short time to do big things to get it right. Republicans “need to campaign to govern, not merely to win.” If Democrats are “the worst, the most malevolent” in their campaigning, “don’t match ’em, let ’em.” Be better. Be serious about the issues at a serious time.
Here Noonan is on target and doing tremendous damage to the Democrats. Of course that party made a huge mistake in selecting Obama, and one might well wonder why that happened. It seems to this newsletter that Obama the candidate resulted from a confluence of three unfortunate circumstances: first, a genuine paucity of good people at the top; second, an optimism that anyone could beat stumble-mouthed W; and finally, a willingness to trust the loonies in the Democratic establishment. In turn:
Kerry’s nomination should have told the Democrats that they need to groom and promote better candidates, schooling newcomers in the fundamentals of policy and the practice of governance. The Democrats should not draft goofy drones from the Senate, but invest in the future by nurturing and then turning to strong governors. As things stand, the party wastes time and resources looking for good people to pitch, and overlooks the basics. That is a typical mistake of an overconfident elite. It presages collapse.
Don’t assume that because people are tired of the same old faces in power, you can do whatever you want when you are handed the keys. There was no mandate for Obamacare, for example, and the poll on the eve of its passage showed that. For Congress to have taken the bit in its teeth at that time was a demonstration of hubris and arrogance that will not be forgiven.
The Democrats are bedeviled by a number of fringe elements. Catering to them is a serious mistake, for every solid victory in presidential politics is based on the ability of the party and candidate to win the middle. Multiculturalism, political correctness, the bias of the news media, the vuvuzela-like drone of Chomsky-spouting conspiracy theorists, the ignorance and insanity of the Truthers, the calls for outreach to Islam, the demand that the USA follow the UK and Canada into the swamp that is socialized medicine — all of this manifest nonsense is a burden, not a benefit. The Democrats are too tolerant of their running dogs.
What appears to be coming is a Republican rout. The main reason is the growing connection between public desire on various issues and Republican stands on those issues. But another is what is happening among Democrats — the rise of a spirit of destruction, and the increasing fact of fractured unity.
Here Noonan’s blindness to the obvious takes her off the road at high speed and into a huge tree. She misunderstands the TPM, for example; she tends to think of it as a portion of the GOP base, when it is much more than that. It is far more centrist than she realizes, and that gives it power that the fringe right does not have. Further, it does not seek a Republican victory; in the final analysis, it is as big a threat to the Republican Party as it is to the Democratic Party. Its goal is to restructure the way US voters understand their government. It is a movement of common sense and principle, and that permits it to include many outside the GOP. Portraying it as a wing is a mistake, for it is actually centrist in its mood, thinking and aims.
Like Obama, Noonan thinks in terms of solidarity. While she is correct to note that Obama can’t scold the instinctive enemies of the TPM into loving him and his party, she is mistaken in thinking that some expedient cooperation, a collective action led by an elite, is what the Democrats require. As she sees it, whatever holds the Democrats together would be politically effective; that’s old-fashioned machine politics, the “art of the possible,” Big Daddy Unruh’s notion of a confederacy that laps up money (“the mother’s milk of politics”). The distinctions between what Noonan sees as a successful Democratic Party and Tammany Hall’s Tweed Ring are few. She does not see the TPM as a rejection of the inherently corrupt, authoritarian, greedy, power-hungry and egotistical practice of politics. That’s a fundamental error.
Of all the posters that Obama’s presence has provoked, perhaps the most powerful and apt is one that is seldom seen these days. In this stunning summation of a dominant theme, Obama is shown in a Mussolini-like pose, lips compressed and chin raised in defiant arrogance. Under his visage is a single word: “OBEY.”
That, Pilgrims, is solidarity. And that is exactly what the TPM hates.
Yes, the Tea Partiers are afraid; they realize what their enemies want. They know how the “progressives” wish to rend the fabric of the constitution, turning it into a document that does not protect the individual from the depredations of government, making of it a means for the authoritarian redistrubution of wealth. The TPM understands what the Bicoastal Elite means by “A Nation United” and “fairness.” That understanding has evoked genuine fear.
Consider that when the Neanderthal drove the bear back from the mouth of the cave, it was not just fear that motivated him: he was also transformed by rage, for his family was threatened.
What would have happened had the Germans been afraid of Hitler?