Monday, September 26, 2011

Finding the Middle in Middle America

Here is an interesting article by Frank Rich in the New York Magazine that points up the fallacy of believing in a "middle ground" in American politics, the infamous "bipartisanship" that supposedly will save the country. Sadly, from my perspective, this "middle" is always just one more step to the right. But here is Frank Rich's take:
As these elites see it, Obama must always hold his fire because we are perennially just one step away from the nirvana of national unity, no matter how glaring the evidence to the contrary. A classic example was a David Brooks column headlined “The Grand Bargain Lives!” published on July 22 of this year and predicting an Obama–John Boehner mind meld on a far-reaching debt-reduction deal. That same day, embarrassingly enough, those negotiations collapsed, with Obama complaining that Boehner hadn’t returned his calls and Boehner stating that “the deal was never reached, and was never really close.” Brooks, who also flogged the unheeded Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission as “the only way to realistically fix this problem,” has merely picked up where the Polonius of bipartisan Washington punditry, David Broder of the Washington Post, left off when he died in March. So beguiled was Broder after the “Gang of Fourteen” halted filibusters (temporarily) on judicial appointments that in 2007 he wrote that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell had “forged a personal relationship of unusual trust,” setting off a “powerful current toward consensus building” in the Senate.

This delusional faith in comity reached its apotheosis in the debt-ceiling showdown. With the reliable exception of Paul Krugman, who shuns Washington and calls centrism “the cult that is destroying America,” almost every Establishment observer in our own time bought into the magical thinking that the radical Republicans would never go so far as to risk a default of the American government. Only when the tea-party cabal in the House took Washington hostage did it fully dawn on the Beltway gentry that the country was in danger. But even now, Obama keeps being urged to make nice with the rebels so that he can woo independents, who, we’re constantly told, value bipartisanship every bit as much as the pundits do. The “all-important independent voters,” as the “Lexington” columnist at The Economist recycled the conventional wisdom earlier this month, “are said to be looking for a president who defuses partisan tensions, rather than inflaming them.” Said by whom? Mainly other Washington bloviators.

Obama, after all, is exactly that president. For the good deed of trying to defuse partisan tensions, he has been punished with massive desertions by the very independents who are supposed to love his pacifism.
Rich goes for the jugular with this:
Yet the glorification of bipartisanship as a political steroid is actually gaining favor in the Beltway, especially in liberal quarters, as Election Year approaches. The first trial balloon, all but bursting with hot air, was the announcement of an organization called No Labels last December. Venerating the “vital center” and vilifying “hyperpartisanship,” No Labels was endorsed by Michael Bloomberg, the former George W. Bush operative Mark McKinnon, and MSNBC’s bipartisan-minded morning talk show Morning Joe, which celebrated No Labels’ opening festival of civic-minded treacle as if it were the birth of the United Nations. ... No Labels, meanwhile, has gone on to create a blog that awards “high-fives” to politicians upholding its content-free ideals. Among the winners have been Boehner (for asking his caucus to show up for Obama’s address to Congress) and Gabrielle Giffords (for showing up to vote for the debt-ceiling bill). While Woody Allen may be right that 80 percent of success is showing up, if that’s now the high bar for a functioning government, America can pack it in.


The other new bipartisan scheme is a web-based campaign, Americans Elect, promoted by Thomas L. Friedman, ­McKinnon, and Douglas Schoen, a Bill Clinton and Bloomberg pollster with a sideline of using Murdoch outlets to berate Obama for not sufficiently emulating Clinton and Bloomberg. Americans Elect has collected more than 1.8 million signatures to put a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot in six states (so far) next year. ... And what would be Friedman’s third-party platform? His domestic bullet points include a short-term stimulus, Simpson-Bowles deficit cuts, a gasoline tax for government-supported scientific research, and a carbon tax to finance new infrastructure and clean-power innovation. That’s an agenda to delight attendees at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Morning Joe devotees, Bloomberg fanciers, and, for that matter, Barack Obama. It would draw only a fraction of those independent voters identified by Pew and no Republicans except for the one percent that likes Jon Huntsman, a No Labels “high-five” honoree whose presidential campaign, dedicated to bipartisan civility, is in a race to the bottom of the polls with Rick Santorum’s.

If Americans Elect gains traction, virtually every vote it receives will be at the Democrats’ expense. The Democrats, and Obama, may well deserve it. But does the country?


“Maybe it’s time to have some provocative language in this country,” Perry said at his maiden debate. It is time, and Obama is certainly capable of giving as good as he gets. The Washington hands who assume Perry and his constituency will self-destruct are as misguided as those who thought the conservative movement couldn’t survive provocative language like the 1964 Goldwater mantra “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” Extremism in defense of liberty may be a vice, but so is retreat in the face of extremism. The many who would have Obama surrender without a fight in 2012—whether Beltway wise men addicted to bipartisanship, vain and deluded third-party entrepreneurs, or White House strategists chasing phantom independents—are fiddling while America burns. If Obama succumbs to their siren call again, he will too.
The Obama "compromises" have been a disaster. Finding middle ground is ridiculous. What is needed is a pragmatic politics, the politics of what is doable. Fighting to win "points" or to "bring down government" (the favourite of the Republicans) is insane. But to continue compromising by giving away your position as Obama has done is equally insane.

The pragmatic politics needed by America is finding solutions and fighting for them. Putting consequence before partisanship and putting needs before negotiation. America needs a leader who will fight for the future.

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