I have a confession to make. When I read the excerpt of President Obama’s interview with Rolling Stone where he took a big, fat slap at the Left in general and the Democratic base in particular for “complaining,” and for their lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming midterm elections, well, I have to admit that it gave me quite a bit of grim satisfaction.
I’m sorry, but it’s true, and I will tell you why.
I’ve been working in politics for a long time, and all of it from the left side of the dial. I am proud to be a member of the big tent that I believe is the majority of the country; from moderate to far left, our numbers are demographically superior to those on the right. The problem with that big tent is, well…what do you find under a big tent? That’s right, a circus.
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There is so much angst and strife and infighting on the liberal end of things in America that sometimes, every once in a while, it is actually refreshing to hear an Obama or a Gibbs or a Biden get exasperated and say something to the effect of, “Oh, for the love of God, please just shut up! And vote! And shut up again!”
I’ve had the urge to say those exact words many times, and have gone ahead and said them on more than a few occasions, because sometimes I just want to punch myself in the face listening to all the bellowing and bellyaching and backbiting that goes on between any of the ten million micro-factions that riddle the left in this country. Right off the top of my head, here is a small list of the fights I have been seeing, hearing and getting sucked into on an almost daily basis for years and years now. In no particular order:
- Democrats are better vs. both parties are the same
- Voting matters vs. voting is pointless
- Nader’s great vs. Nader sucks (a larger version of “Nader cost Gore Florida in 2000” vs. “No, no, no, not true, and Gore sucked anyway”)
- Israel vs. Palestine (the great-granddaddy of them all)
- PETA vs. the omnivores
- Soldiers are good vs. soldiers are evil
- Democrat vs. liberal vs. progressive vs. socialist vs. communist vs. those who just need something to complain about
- Iraq immediate withdrawal vs. timetable
- Afghanistan immediate withdrawal vs. timetable
- LGBT people deserve equal rights now vs. LGBT people need to let the Democrats keep their powder dry until the country is ready for that kind of reform
- The problem is the media vs. the problem is the voting machines vs. the problem is corporate personhood vs. stop arguing, you’re all correct
- 9/11 was an inside job vs. 9/11 was a tragedy (this one has too many sub-basements to lay out in full)
- Kerry supporters vs. Dean supporters vs. Edwards supporters vs. Clark supporters vs. Graham supporters vs. Kucinich supporters vs. Gephardt supporters vs. Lieberman supporters (yes, there were a few) during the 2004 primaries, and the resulting hangover of resentment that still lingers today
- Obama supporters vs. Clinton supporters vs. Kucinich supporters again vs. Dodd supporters vs. Vilsack supporters vs. Edwards supporters again vs. Gravel supporters vs. Bayh supporters during the 2008 primaries, and all the residual scarring and anger and crowing and slagging and bragging that went on throughout which left an ocean of bad feelings that have only begun to fade
…and finally, of course…
- Obama is doing fine vs. Obama is a total failure
It’s all that, and so much more. As a political writer, I have to take it all into account. To wit: I form an opinion on an issue, sit down to write about it, and the first thing I think is, “OK, who is this going to piss off this time?” Robert Kennedy once said that one fifth of the country is always angry about something, but I think he low-balled the number if the volume of times I get e-shouted at over any given topic are any indication.
Beyond that, it sometimes becomes murderously frustrating to witness a body of people who tend to agree on 90% of the issues of the day beating the living crud out of each other thanks to that pesky 10%. It’s a legitimate phenomenon, and is at least part of the reason why that demographic majority has so much trouble winning power in America, and has even more trouble keeping it after they get it.
Part of that problem, of course, is that given the multitude of long-standing rifts on the left, it is practically impossible for any Democratic politician to navigate the minefield without getting blown in half. Right-wing politicians have it easy; all they have to do is say the “right” things about fetuses, Jesus, guns, taxes and brown people crossing the border, and the GOP base will turn out for them in droves. A Democratic politician, by comparison, stands to lose some, if not all of the liberal/base vote if he or she blows it on any one of the above-listed issues, which they are doomed to do no matter what they do or say. It might not be fair, and is in many cases absolutely not constructive, but it happens all the time regardless. No wonder you hear Democrats snarling about “whiners” in their own base.
Are there whiners in this group of citizens? Of course. Do those voices, coupled with the generalized infighting that remains a constant, make me crazy sometimes? Sure. Do I sometimes feel pleasure when someone like Biden or Obama spits a “STFU and STFD” into the cacophony? Without doubt.
But here’s the thing. The left is what it is, warts and all, and the number of times they have been right on the money when it comes to life-and-death matters for this nation – FDR’s 100 Days, desegregation and civil rights, the fact that trickle-down economics does not work, the need for serious Wall Street regulation, environmental protection, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so forth – demands the utmost respect.
Oh, and let it not be forgotten that the right had a field day calling Democrats and the left “whiners” after the 2000 electoral debacle. Guess what? We were right about that one, too.
Whiners? How about promise-keepers. What I remember most about 2004, especially after Senator Kerry won the nomination, was the ocean of discontent on the left about casting a vote for him. There were any number of areas where Kerry and the left diverged, none more prominent than his vote in favor of the Iraq War Resolution in 2003. What I said to everyone on the left I met, what I said to myself over and over, was: yes, voting for Kerry is a compromise, but we can’t have four more years of Bush, and if Kerry wins, we in his base can and must do everything possible to keep his feet to the fire. If he wins, we will climb up his back and sit on his head until he does what is right.
We didn’t get that chance in 2004, but we sure got it in 2008, and in my opinion, the noise and “whining” currently afflicting the Obama administration is nothing more or less than the base keeping it’s word, pointing out loudly when mistakes are made, and doing everything possible to steer a Democratic administration back in the proper direction.
It strikes me that Mr. Obama and his people are the ones doing all the whining. Instead of lashing out, they should be saying thank you. Thank you for coming out in droves to get us elected in 2008, thank you for reminding us where we have not measured up so we can improve, thank you for caring so much that party affiliation and nose-counting doesn’t trump the common good. Sure, there are those who are simply complainers, and those types are very good at making all kinds of noise about all kinds of divisive issues, but the rest of us are devoutly concerned citizens who see this administration coming up short in any number of areas. The Obama administration is not a failure, but it is surely not a success, either. Not yet. Not by a long, long chalk.
Harper’s Washington Editor, Ken Silverstein, recently penned a farewell letter after deciding to leave his post at the magazine. In it, he made the following pointed observations:
I moved to Washington in 1993, when a young, new Democratic president replaced George Bush and promised to reform politics and be a transformative leader. Backed by huge majorities in Congress and with public opinion squarely in his corner, he had the opportunity to shake things up and change American politics. Instead, he and his party squandered their chance through timidity, weak leadership, a lack of any original ideas and their refusal to confront special interest groups.
Here we are seventeen years later and there’s a young, new Democratic president who replaced George Bush and promised to reform politics and be a transformative leader. Backed by huge majorities in Congress….
Well, by now you can probably guess where this is heading.
Joe Biden and Robert Gibbs have recently been attacking the “left” and saying that it doesn’t appreciate all the great things the administration has done. For my part, I have lived in Washington long enough to have realistic hopes; for example, given political realities, passing a single payer bill was not going to happen. But I also don’t think it’s my job, as a journalist or a citizen, to blindly repeat the mantra of the administration (and its supporters in the blogosphere), that we should “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Fine, but let’s also not treat the administration’s health care plan as a grand achievement. The bill is widely unpopular, and not only because of the hyperbolic attacks on it by Republicans and Fox News. It’s unpopular because it’s a terrible piece of legislation.
The current GOP is truly a scary party, but if not for that it would be impossible to care about the midterm elections. When you’re reduced to rooting for soulless hacks like the current Senate majority leader – and he’s typical of today’s Democrats – you’ve lost something fundamental at the core of your humanity.
Or a call for this president and this administration to take a long, hard look in the mirror?
Maybe it’s time for Mr. Obama and Co. to stop attacking their friends and get down to the work they were elected to do. The world will not end in November, no matter what happens, and this administration still has two more years to do what needs to be done. They know what those things are, but have thus far lacked the courage and conviction to do them.
So we’ll keep right on “whining” until it gets done. If they turn around and blame the left for their own failures and electoral setbacks, well, we will all know who the true whiners really are.