Forgetting Sarah Palin

Posted by Brian Beutler

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Progressives need to stop mocking buffoons on the far right and focus on passing legislation.

It's no secret that the President and his party have had a hard time making the strides they want to make, particularly on the legislative front. There was, of course, the success of the stimulus, which passed by the skin of its teeth, and only after it had been measurably, and tragically, weakened. But beyond that, the "change" has been scarce: No health care bill, no climate change bill, and we're less than a year from an election, the results of which will likely reduce the Democrats' big majority in Congress, further diminishing their hopes of actually accomplishing anything.This is a failure with many fathers, some of whom have nothing to do with the progressive majority in the country. We've even addressed some of those problems in this very space.But, crucially, progressives and Democrats haven't been up to the task. The people and institutions that ushered a progressive majority to power-unions, pressure groups, think tanks, and the Obama campaign-are skilled at many things. Particularly, they're good at making the Republican party seem like a terrible alternative to the public. And that's important-in elections, it helps if your opponent is unpopular. But between elections, these groups should have been focusing significantly more energy on fixing the economy, passing health care reform, and addressing climate change-and less on continuing to expose the GOP for the farce it is.This was never going to be easy. In the modern, polarized Congress, where most legislation needs 60 out of 100 votes to pass, progress requires more than making asses out of the rump element of flat taxers and climate change deniers. It requires making people in the center feel heat when they don't play nice. And on that score, the White House, and its proxies have failed badly.The White House itself deserves a great deal of the blame. At every major "change" turning point-when Ben Nelson, Susan Collins, and Arlen Specter tied up and hacked away at the stimulus bill; when banks made a mockery of the taxpayers who bailed them out; when centrists in both the House and the Senate emasculated the public health insurance option-some hardline progressive groups were prepared to pull all of their levers, and the White House said, "hush." In an earlier role as chairman of Democrats' congressional political arm, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had helped build this center flank, and he'd be damned if he was going to let fringy activists upset it.So, for the most part, the well-moneyed groups-the Center for American Progress, SEIU, Obama's reconstituted campaign arm Organizing for America-stayed quiet. Or they did what they've always done. They made Sarah Palin (and Michelle Bachmann, and Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck) look like weirdos. Dangerous weirdos. But mainly just weirdos.And that's created huge problems. Chiefly, it means that the Democrats were unable to pass a big enough stimulus to keep the country out of double-digit unemployment, even though Michael Steele and Rush Limbaugh looked like buffoons the whole time. They have yet to pass a health care bill, and the one they're working on isn't very popular with progressives, even though Sen. Jim DeMint paid dearly for calling health care Obama's "Waterloo," and Rep. Joe Wilson had to apologize publicly for screaming "you lie!" at the President. And the prospects for a climate change bill passing the Senate before the 2010 elections looks bleaker and bleaker every day, even though everybody knows that Sen. James Inhofe is a nutcase.Most importantly, that means the country and the world, are worse off. Secondarily, it means that Democratic voters have little to be excited about. So even though all of the left's right-wing bashing has helped keep the GOP extremely unpopular, the GOP's voters are energized, ready to turn out, while the liberal base feels demoralized. You know who wins those elections.At this point, a solution is elusive. Democrats need to do things-a jobs program, a health care bill people like-that improve peoples' lives, even if it means offending some of their friends. Then they can run on substantive success. To paraphrase Barney Frank, "it's not as terrible as it could have been," isn't an inspiring platform.Read more