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Fickle Independents and Liberal Postmortems


Source: Resurgent Republic

As we somberly walk in the funeral procession following the midterm election, the air is filled with cries, lamentations, rending of garments, and portents of doom from Democrats and liberals, much as we heard from Republicans and conservatives after the Republican Party was interred in 2008.

Buried under the mountain of navel gazing, finger-pointing, self-serving spin, and bitter invective in the left-o-sphere, we can still find a few gems of sparkling analysis, insight and useful advice. We’ll mine two examples of Progressive postmortems. One is a rich vein of solid gold analysis, but to get to it we must first separate and dispose of the slag.

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic cannot hide his bitterness and anger in this devastating dismantling of the straw man he props up for that very purpose:

Split Ends – The myth of divided government
(full text at The Cagle Post)

“No sooner had Republicans swept into power, promising to repeal President Obama’s major initiatives and make his defeat their top priority, than a bevy of pundits declared that this was all just a prelude to a new era of moderation and compromise. What will bring about this outbreak of bipartisanship? Simple: divided government. All you need to do is give each party some stake in the success of government, and watch the cooperation blossom….

The main trouble with the endorsement of divided government is a failure to grasp the cause of the unraveling of a bipartisan consensus. “Recent presidents have had more success when forced to work with slim majorities in Congress, or even none at all,” asserted Matt Bai in The New York Times earlier this year. Bai cited tax reform under Ronald Reagan and environmental protection under Richard Nixon. Of course, those policies depended on Republican presidents who accepted goals, such as toughening environmental regulation and cracking down on corporate tax evasion, that are antithetical to the contemporary party….

The fetishization of divided government resembles a kind of cargo cult: If only we reconstruct the division of power from 1983, then surely the Greenspan Commission will return to solve our problems. The conditions that created those old bipartisan agreements aren’t coming back, no matter what you do to conjure them.”

It apparently makes Chait feel good to monotonously apply the pejorative of a “fetish” to the divided government voting heuristic, but it does exactly nothing to further his argument (as I’ve noted before).

This might be a reasonable argument, if the reason that independents voted for divided government was with the express hope of ushering in an era of bipartisan cooperation, moderation and compromise. It wasn’t. Bipartisan cooperation may or may not happen in the next two years, but it has nothing to do with the reason why many independents voted as they did. They voted to restrain the excesses of this latest edition of One Party Rule (Democratic version). They voted in reflexive horror after witnessing two examples of mind-numbingly bad and jaw-droppingly expensive legislation – ARRA (Stimulus) and PPACA (Obamacare) – that were both made possible and steamrolled by One Party Democratic Rule.

Whether our impending divided government produces bipartisan cooperation or not, it remains a fact that true bipartisan cooperation is impossible when one party holds all the cards. For the last two years the Democrats held all the cards. If the divided government of the next two years does nothing else but prevent or moderate legislation like ARRA and PPACA, then it will meet the objectives of many independents that voted for it.

For an antidote to Chait’s toxic mix of bluster, logical fallacy, and dismissive ad hominem offered up as an explanation of the election, electorate and governance, consider Lee Durham of the Progressive Policy Institute. Durham presents some real data-centric analysis, offers real insight, and comes up with some good suggestions for Democrats and President Obama in:

How to Understand the Independents (and how to win them Back)“:

“For Obama and the Democrats to win in 2012, they will clearly need to win back the “Independent” voters who they lost in 2010. As we know, Independents broke hard for Republicans this time, after breaking hard for Democrats in two previous elections. Clearly they hold the balance of power in American politics…

It is obviously difficult to generalize about Independents, since it turns out they are actually quite a heterogenous group. About two-thirds lean to one party or the other, consistently voting for that party about 80 percent of the time. However, they are less partisan than strong partisans, and there are at least a few true independents in the mix: about 10 to 15 percent of the electorate, according to political scientists.

…and finally, on the policy: since almost half of Independents call themselves moderate, a number of them were probably uncomfortable with the liberal direction unified Democratic control was taking government. There were probably some number of genuinely moderate voters who saw Republicans as a correction to Democratic extremism, just as they had recently seen Democrats as a correction to Republican extremism. They might also want divided government

How can Obama and the Democrats win back the lost Independents? Since the Independent voters most likely to swing back into the Democratic column are also those who are the most performance-based and the least ideological, it makes sense for Obama to keep focused on economic recovery and let Republicans go pursue an extremist agenda. If Obama and the Democrats can pitch themselves as the hard-working, economy-focused force of moderation while Republicans engage in partisan bomb-throwing, many of the true swing voters who went Republican will surely have a bit of buyer’s remorse. ”

I’ll leave it to the reader to compare and contrast these two very different progressive perspectives of the election, electorate, and, most importantly, the way forward. Consider which of the two is informed by common sense, logic and data and which is informed by rhetoric, sophistry and rage. I submit they are representative of two significant and incompatible constituencies within the Democratic Party. The schism has been there all along, but was papered over in 2006 and 2008 by the unifying principle of Bush Hate. Regardless of how skilled Axelrod, Gibbs, and Plouffe may be at “triangulation”, the Obama administration cannot simultaneously turn left and turn toward the center. I hope Democrats choose wisely, as I really don’t want to see us return to one party Republican rule in 2013. If they rely on Palin and Tea Party to hand the 2012 election to the Democrats, they just may be disappointed…


Portions excerpted and cross posted from Divided We Stand United We Fall