If you want to understand the Left, watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Therein, the People’s Front of Judea ostensibly revolts against the occupying Romans. But who really provokes its ire are schismatic groups with similar aims (and names): the Judean People’s Front, the Judean Popular People’s Front, and the Campaign for a Free Galilee. When the People’s Front comically gets confused for the Popular Front, a member asks: “Whatever happened to the Popular Front?” “He’s over there.”
The splitters on the extremes confuse allies for enemies, pathologically interpret their group’s small size as nevertheless representative of the masses, stay vigilant against real or imagined impurities, argue more heatedly the more trivial the matter, and are always debating, never doing. This is what President Obama is up against in his own party.
The president signed the most expensive stimulus package in history, eroded his political capital by force-feeding universal health care to the American people, and scaled down the war in Iraq. The thanks he receives is talk of a primary challenge.
Michael Lerner castigates Obama for “spinelessness” that has left his base “deeply disillusioned.” Alas, Lerner’s illusions persist, advancing the idea that running a left-wing candidate against Obama in the 2012 Democratic primaries will somehow save his presidency. That illusory candidate, Lerner posited in the Washington Post, would support “a massive jobs program,” “replace the ‘war on terror’ with a Global Marshall Plan,” impose “a strong tax on carbon emissions,” allow “only public financing in elections,” and require “corporations to prove every five years to a jury of ordinary citizens that they have a satisfactory history of environmental responsibility.” Lamely resurrecting tired slogans for a future program, Lerner writes: “We need a progressive push for a new New Deal, which in the 21st century could be the Caring Society: ‘Caring for Each Other and the Earth.’”
Get out of San Francisco much, Mr. Lerner?
Robert Kuttner’s disillusions with Obama run even deeper than Lerner’s. His illusions about the might of the Left run deeper, too. Similarly obsessed with the president’s anatomy, Kuttner finds Obama without a spine and that “the more that he is pummeled, the more he bends over.” Kuttner enthusiastically discusses a primary challenge at the Huffington Post. He
reasons, “Obama is rapidly becoming our Herbert Hoover.”
An unnamed House Democrat even said “f— the president” when a colleague pitched Obama’s tax-policy agreement with Republicans at a closed-door meeting among lawmakers on Thursday.
Ten years removed from Ralph Nader’s political assassination of President Al Gore, Democrats again have an appetite for cannibalism. That’s good news for Republicans, who may not be the main course for a change. Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush II—arguably the scariest of boogeymen for the Left—all benefitted from Democratic Party cannibalism. Yet, Democrats are fixing to eat their own yet again. If elephants never forget, donkeys never remember.
How did Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge work out for Jimmy Carter? Perhaps the primary challenge is more symptom than cause of political trouble for the incumbent. But the idea that an intramural contest, or a third-party siphon, will benefit the president is belied by the losing track record of incumbents forced to fight a wing of their own party.
Independents, not the base, abandoned the Democrats on Election Day 2010. Perhaps the president might seem less extreme juxtaposed with the attacking extremists within his own party. But catering to them risks losing the voters he needs—independents—for victory in 2012.
The president, perhaps because he is now president and no longer backbencher, seems to get this. “This is the public-option debate all over again,” he remarked over the furor on the Left over his tax compromise. “Now, if that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then, let’s face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people.”
Alas, the woe-is-me routine only goes so far. This is the same man who envisioned his presidency stopping the oceans from rising and healing the planet. The party faithful who bought into that certainly expected him capable of mere mortal feats, such as lifting the ban on gays in the military and closing Guantanamo Bay.
You can’t blame true believers for, well, believing.