Common Ground

Apparently President Obama gave a speech today attacking the Ryan budget. In the Q&A he went after the GOP for making rightward shifts which prevented them from finding common ground. Jed Lewison writes:

Obama continues hammering Republicans for moving so far to the right. “Cap and trade was originally proposed by Republicans … now they say we shouldn’t even be thinking about environmental protection.” “The individual mandate … originated as a conservative idea. … Now suddenly this is some socialist overreach. So, as all of you are doing your reporting, I think it’s important to remember that the positions I’m taking now on the budget and a whole host of other issues … [20 years ago] would have been squarely centrist.” It’s Republicans that have shifted.

David Dayen, writing in response to President Obama’s contention, notes:

Isn’t it Democrats who have shifted as well? For this to be the case, for the Democratic leader to have co-opted a whole bunch of Republican plans on the biggest economic issues of the day, represents the clear fact that the Democratic Party has ideologically become akin to where a moderate Republican would have stood in the 1960s. And the claim is always that this is a function of politics, that it’s about compromise, it’s about moving things forward. That’s against the entire point of today’s speech! Obama was saying precisely that Republicans are NOT willing to compromise. If these shifts in ideology were about compromise, it would presume that a compromise has actually been reached. But it hasn’t. Democrats have drifted right and Republicans have drifted right along with them, with common ground still elusive.

It really isn’t news to note that America has a right-wing political party and a far right-wing political party. Except it seems to be ignored by most Democrats, who instead try to explain away why President Obama and his cohorts on the Hill consistently adopt positions which are proudly touted as conservative.

On a certain level, the President is being willfully obtuse about why he has not found common ground with the Republicans, who are indeed further to the right than they used to be. Politics is about creating contrast with your opponent. Today Obama tried to make contrast between himself and the Republicans, who introduced a massive transfer of wealth from the 99% to wealthy elites in the form of the Ryan budget. But if there was common ground between the two parties, not just in general concepts (eg: we should cut entitlements and cut taxes) but in specifics, there would cease to be the element of contrast which is necessary for every political campaign. Politics would stop and no party which is out of power would ever agree to adopt it. While the likes of President Obama dreams of a post-partisan world where elites agree to take from the rest of us in small, reasonable bites, this isn’t something the GOP will go for.

Dayen notes in closing:

Far from changing this conversation, the online progressive movement of the past several years hasn’t really even arrested the forward motion. This is the real story of American politics, when you get out of the day-to-day struggles.

Yes, indeed. The online progressive movement has been alternately a beard used by conservative Democrats like Obama to convince the base of the value of conservative ideas or completely ineffective at presenting a real left flank in American politics, one to which Democrats are held accountable. There are plenty of reasons for it, but the most obvious is institutional capture by the Democratic Party. It’s either that or a fundamental aversion to tell the public the truth about what is happening in our country, after years of lying about the virtue of electoral politics as a vehicle for achieving progressive change that moves us to the left. In any case, it’s destructive and it’s depressing.

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