When hippies punch back

When it comes to hippy punching, the Washington Post’s in-house “liberal,” Dana Milbank, is one of the Beltway press corps’ most accomplished pugilists. His career can be easily defined by his use of his platform as a nominal liberal to say how silly and out of touch liberals are. Milbank’s latest involves mocking the Congressional Progressive Caucus for having the temerity to produce a budget which arrives at a surplus within 10 years. Milbank frames the awful policy choices by the CPC thusly:

Still, it gives a sense of how things would be if liberals ran the world: no cuts in Social Security benefits, government-negotiated Medicare drug prices, and increased income taxes and Social Security taxes for the wealthy. Corporations and investors would be hit with a variety of new fees and taxes. And the military would face a shock-and-awe accounting: a 22 percent cut in Army forces, 30 percent for Marines, 20 percent for the Navy and 15 percent for the airforce. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would end, and weapons programs would go begging.

I hope no one fainted by this brutal vision of reality! Milbank mockingly closes his column:

The Progressive Caucus will win that argument, just as soon as they gain control of the weather. The drizzle, alas, did not let up.

What a dick.

Fed up with Milbank’s ridiculous hippy punching, Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution decided to punch back:

First they came for the welfare mothers, but I did not speak out, because I was a member of Skull & Bones.

Then they came for middle-class manufacturing unions, but I did not speak out, because I had to get to a party at Marty Peretz’s.

Then they came for the upper middle class people who didn’t have columns in the Washington Post, but I did not speak out, because Dennis Kucinich is short.

And then they came for me…and I was STILL so fucking stupid that I spent my time making fun of the House Progressive Caucus.

And boom goes the dynamite.

Digby on Hippie Punching

Today we are getting more details about President Obama’s planned speech Wednesday night on deficit reduction. The Washington Post is reporting that the President will use the Bowles-Simpson plan, which failed to be passed by the bipartisan Catfood Commission, as his template for deficit reduction. Throw in a Wall Street Journal article on the administration’s willingness to add deficit reduction provisions to a deal with the Republicans raising the debt ceiling and the White House’s commitment to cutting the deficit through cutting spending should be clear. After all, the President wouldn’t have put together the Catfood Commission if he didn’t plan to use it as a policy vehicle at some point.

I’m sure Wednesday’s speech will be met by a similar range of unthinking Beltway pundits talking about how equally Serious President Obama is next to Congressman Paul Ryan. The outsides of the debate will be set and I’d expect the actual lack of legitimized liberal deficit plans will ensure that whatever the President proposes, we will get something to its right in the end. Digby writes:

The leftward position is tepid market-oriented compromises coming out of the gate. Better than Ryan, of course. But hardly a position that could balance the rightward yank that Ryan and the Simpson Bowles atrocity have given us or serve as an opening ante. The problem, unfortunately, is that when anyone sets forth a truly liberal plan like Cohn proposes, they are not only met with shrieks of horror from conservatives, establishment liberals and Democratic third-way centrists stalk them like a pack of hyenas and marginalize them as outside the “mainstream” and assure everyone who will listen that they are not “serious.” You may have noticed that Paul Ryan’s lunacy is not similarly treated by his own. Indeed, it’s not even similarly treated that way by liberals. Just try to imagine a plan like the one Cohn describes being hailed as “courageous” (even though it surely would be.) Yeah, I know. Shrill.

The fact is that there is no liberal establishment willing to validate liberalism. Indeed, for reasons only they can tell us, they almost always go out of their way to exclude anyone who can readily be identified as a person of the left and rush before the cameras and into print to reassure America that they have no support. I have my theories about why that might be, but suffice to say it’s a fairly easily documented phenomenon. There is simply no space in the establishment political dialog for explicitly left policy or rhetoric.

The key here is that the President is not seeking to change a dynamic that he is perfectly happy with. Again, he pulled together the Catfood Commission. We could have liberal ideas, if the leaders of the Democratic Party wanted there to be liberal ideas. Instead, Third Way, Goldman Sachs, and Citibank are the main pipelines for staff into (and out of) the administration.

I don’t know what the solution here is. In the near term, Nancy Pelosi is likely the most important Democrat in the country for those people who want to stop austerity, stop cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid, and have a shot at stopping tax cuts for millionaires.  But the tension between liberals in the House and the President is glaring; the conflict of ideas dramatically reduces the chances that these programs be preserved as-is.

Tax Cuts & Liberalism

Kevin Drum:

Looking at American politics from a 100,000-foot level, conservatives have won. Programmatic liberalism is essentially dead for a good long time, and small bore stuff is probably the best we can hope for over the next 10-20 years — though social liberalism will continue to make steady advances. I reserve judgment on whose fault that is.

David Dayen responds:

It’s certainly dead in a situation where tax rates are permanently at 2001 levels. To me, that’s the choice. If the debt ceiling rise was included in this deal, ensuring that one bargaining chip for spending cuts came off the table, I’d have a much easier time agreeing to this, mindful of the near-term need for stimulus. As it isn’t, I have problems with mortgaging the future for a short-term gain I find ephemeral.

Matt Bai Is Nuts

Matt Bai has a piece in the New York Times today, titled “‘Blame the Blue Dogs’ Theory for Democratic Losses Doesn’t Add Up.” It’s just plain nuts. Actually, it’s worse than that. Bai primarily seems to be laundering the Conventional Wisdom that Blue Dogs and the Third Way want to take hold – namely, don’t pay attention to the fact that our preferred policies and tactics were enacted over the last two years when trying to figure out why we were decimated at the polls.

The reality is that the size and cohesion of the Blue Dog caucus made them a key voting bloc during the last two years. As a result, they had major input on the content of legislation passed by the House. Their threat to walk was always hanging over negotiations and often they ended up not voting for legislation that they’d worked hard to get modified to be satisfactory for them (See: the Stupak Amendment). But to suggest that the Blue Dogs didn’t have a major hand in the nature of legislation that the House passed is to be in pure denial of the facts. The problem the Blue Dogs faced is that their efforts prevented Congress from doing more to help people. The stimulus was smaller than necessary because Blue Dogs prevented the “political will” from existing, to use the phrase that was repeated to justify an insignificantly large stimulus. They shrunk jobs creating bills. They limited the scope and efficacy of healthcare reform.  They pursued pork for themselves as bargaining chips. In short, Blue Dogs were critical agents in making sure what efforts the Congress made towards righting the economy and helping voters were too small to be effective.

Policy is not like porridge. The middle point between liberal ideas and conservative ones is not just right. As we saw, when Blue Dogs go their way, America’s porridge stayed too cold to be palatable.

I doubt many voters went into their voting booth last week and said, “Congress was insufficiently liberal, so I will vote my Blue Dog rep out of office.” But they likely did say, “Congress bailed out the Wall Street banks, didn’t create a job for me or my wife with the stimulus, and haven’t punished the people who caused the economic collapse. All of these were things my Blue Dog rep made happen – I’m going to vote him out.”

Clearly Matt Bai, the few remaining Blue Dogs, and the Third Way do not get that Democrats lost because the policies that were enacted were too timid to be effective. They failed to make peoples’ lives better. It’s not about liberal or conservative for voters – it’s about efficacy. But when we political operatives look at last week, we have to ask ourselves, “Why weren’t the laws of the 111th Congress enough to fix the economy, create jobs, and keep voters happy?” Any sober answer to that question would lead one to find the obstructionism by Blue Dogs and conservative Democrats which was removed by watering-down every major piece of economic legislation (at the behest of Blue Dogs). That is, not enough was done because of conservatives in Congress. Voters punished them for this. The lesson is clear to me, but obviously the conservatives who have a vested interest in convincing the rest of the party that their political malfeasance wasn’t the cause of electoral defeat will refuse to learn this lesson, while sending their lackeys like Matt Bai out to talk down to anyone contradicting them.

Pelosi Sticks Around

This is just great news. Speaker Pelosi has announced that she will run for Minority Leader and, per Greg Sargent, “her candidacy is partly about protecting the legacy of Dem accomplishments, and partly about ensuring that Dems show the fortitude and spine that will be required to resist the GOP urge to repeal them.” Sargent has Pelosi’s letter to the caucus announcing her intentions. It includes:

Our work is far from finished. As a result of Tuesday’s election, the role of Democrats in the 112th Congress will change, but our commitment to serving the American people will not. We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back. It is my hope that we can work in a bipartisan way to create jobs and strengthen the middle class.

Many of our colleagues have called with their recommendations on how to continue our fight for the middle class, and have encouraged me to run for House Democratic Leader. Based on those discussions, and driven by the urgency of protecting health care reform, Wall Street reform, and Social Security and Medicare, I have decided to run.

Pelosi has been the best advocate progressives have in the leadership of the Democratic Party. I have to imagine that if she’s announcing for Leader, she has the votes in place to win. In a situation where Democrats are in the minority in Congress, I’d hope that Pelosi could be a real agitator and leader in the charge of opposition to the GOP majority in the House. She can take them on more directly than Reid or President Obama.

More to the point, though, Speaker Pelosi has been one of the brightest points in the Democratic Party for years. She is an able public servant and an effective legislator. She deserves to continue to lead the caucus and I hope her colleagues feel the same way.

Speaker Pelosi

Speaker Pelosi says she has no regrets from the last Congress, including the passage of “healthcare reform, student lending reform, financial regulatory reform, credit card reform and the stimulus, even if it meant losing their House majority.” I think we’ll see how all their hard work plays out in the long term. Jonathan Singer is right to note the parallel to the 89th Congress, when Democrats passed “Medicare, Medicaid and the Voting Rights Act,” while subsequently suffering serious electoral losses.

Prior to the election, there was a lot of talk about Steny Hoyer taking over as leader of the House caucus if Democrats lost the House. There is zero reason why there needs to be a leadership change. Speaker Pelosi presided over an unarguably historic Congress, setting out the House as the most progressive part of the government – more so than the Senate and even the White House. She is a phenomenal organizer, keeping a caucus with many conservative Democrats largely in line. I don’t see the virtue in her being moved along because of a change in the calendar, especially as she serves in the highest elected office an American woman has ever held.

Obviously Speaker Pelosi has the right to make the choice for herself. I just hope that no one in the party pressures her out. There have been precedents where a Speaker loses the majority, but remains Minority Leader (the legendary Sam Rayburn comes to mind and, obviously, his Republican counterpart in the intervening years, Joseph Martin).  There’s no reason why Speaker Pelosi can’t join Rayburn as a congressional leader whose tenure as Speaker of the House is broken by a session or two as Minority Leader.

The last part of my concern about Speaker Pelosi stepping aside as leader of the House caucus is that she is unquestionably more progressive than her likely replacement, Steny Hoyer. John Larson of the CT-01 is another candidate whose name is talked about, though he would face an up hill battle against Hoyer. Larson is more progressive than Hoyer, but he’s still a New Democrat and isn’t the same fiery liberal that Pelosi is. Rather than see an internal fight over what sort of person leads the House while Democrats are in the minority, I’d much prefer that her colleagues recognize and honor her incredible work for the Democratic Party and for America, and encourage Speaker Pelosi to stay on as Minority Leader.

Thinking About the Election

Earlier this week, Ryan Grim of Huffington Post wrote:

Over the past decade and a half, the party of FDR, JFK and LBJ drifted away from its foundation and found refuge in a transactional politics that is being forcefully rejected by voters. Presented with the chance to make history, Democrats made deals — with pill makers, with device makers, with hospital executives, with hedge fund managers, with swaps dealers, with auto dealers, with “non-bank financial institutions.” As the tide turned, Democrats found those corporate interests scurrying back to the GOP. When the party turned back to its people, they were nowhere to be found. Compromise in pursuit of a broadly popular, unifying agenda is a forgivable sin. Compromise just to put points on the board leads to a blowout.

Last night, HuffPost Hill included this snippet on the election results:

ARMAGEDDON – This is a very, very, very bad night for the progressive movement — a blow that calls into question whether there is such a thing. The idea that running as a passionate progressive-populist, working hard, raising a ton of money and doing bang-up constituent work is a legitimate path to reelection in a conservative district, even in a wave year, was thoroughly demolished. Tom Perriello is a thoughtful, charming, hard-working freshman whose progressive values are deeply held. He worked as hard as anyone in Congress, passionately articulated and defended his controversial votes, raised a ton of money and held endless townhalls while running a flawless campaign in his rural House district. Yet he lost to an empty-headed, country-club Republican who refused to take a position on anything other than the need to cut taxes and spending. He was swamped with corporate money. Carol Shea-Porter and Mary Jo Kilroy, also tough progressives in swing districts, met similar fates — the former to a guy who was part of a bar fight this year and skipped out before the cops came and somehow came up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to lend his campaign after telling voters he was personally broke and the latter to A BANK LOBBYIST. And Alan Grayson went down. And Pat Toomey won in Pennsylvania. Pat Toomey. The Club for Growth derivatives trader. HuffPost Hill is out of answers.

I think the value of the online progressive community, including reporters like Ryan at HuffPost, is that while the right (of both parties) and the Beltway press will try to explain away losses of Grayson, Carol Shea-Porter, Kilroy and a couple others as the result of them being too liberal, we can rebut that simplistic view while learning from what happened to make sure the next crop of progressive elected officialss don’t suffer the same fate.

At base level, not enough was done by elected officials to make peoples’ lives better. But questions about who their opponents were, what sort of outside spending they face, what sort of Democratic Party support they received, what sort of labor support they received, what sort of other progressive group support they received, what specific votes they took that may or may not have been tough for their district, how they communicated with their constituents about these votes, what their opponents said about these votes, and what vision of change they presented to their constituents to befit their reelection are all very important to answer. We can look at them and provide a more robust answer than “progressives can’t stay in office.”

Today might feel like failure, especially with the loss of folks like Grayson and Perriello. But if the Conventional Wisdom coalesces around the Third Way line, then we’ve really failed, as it brings us back to a pre-2004 attitude within the Democratic Party and almost certainly ensures prolonged pain for the American people.


Dave Weigel is right, Evan Bayh is just god-awful and shouldn’t have any platform to talk about politics. The guy is an empty vessel who did nothing as a Senator and failed to live up to whatever bogus centrist values he talks about on TV. His decision to not run for office handed the GOP a seat and his rhetoric has never been back up by legislating. It’d be one thing if he was a conservative Democrat who legislated as such, but other than being a squeaky wheel he’s never been a problem on whipping votes for the administration’s agenda. I’m not complaining about that, as I expect him to vote with the caucus. It just reveals his weakness as a legislator, a cowardly man who will talk tough on TV to make Democrats look bad, but never own the votes he is actually (rightly) taking.