Sunday, June 20, 2010

Schultz Wisdom

Bob Somerby of Daily Howler frequently criticizes "our side" for failing to build a progressive politics. He comes down especially hard on Washington Post columnists, New York Times columnists, and MSNBC anchor persons for various sins, including an emphasis on the sexual (Maureen Dowd among the offenders), racism of white conservatives (Keith Olbermann among the offenders), and distorting and manipulating the statements and record of Vice-President Gore, leading to the Bush presidency (Chris Matthews, Eugene Robinson, and a whole lot of others).

But he was wrong last Wednesday about MSNBC's Ed Schultz:

SCHULTZ (6/14/10): And here’s what I don’t want to hear tonight. I don’t want to hear anything about bipartisanship. Liberals, we’re supposed to be in the majority here. I don’t want any more olive branches. I don’t want any more reaching across the aisle—didn’t we do that dance during health care and where did it get us? Don’t be offended by this, conservatives, but damn the Republicans, this country can’t afford any more political games. We are in crisis. The majority of Americans believe we are in crisis right now and we have to stop what is happening in the gulf.

Say what? Whatever could have made Schultz thought that liberals are in the majority? For a small reality check, just review the polling numbers on the Obama health plan, which is now law. Review the polling on the Arizona immigration law, a measure which liberals have denounced as strongly as any in recent memory. In no way are liberals/progressives in the majority, and it’s stunning to see that major liberals and progressives don’t know that. How can we build a winning progressive politics if we are thus deluded?

Somerby correctly asserts that there currently is no liberal majority in the country, the mandate for progressive politics existing in autumn of 2008 having evaporated, or been squandered or destroyed. But Schultz is recommending that liberals/progressives not behave defensively- "I don't want any more olive branches. I don't wan't any more reaching across the aisle. Didn't we do that dance during health care and where did it get us?"

Where it got us, indeed. Somerby argues that a review of the numbers on the health care plan refute the idea of the popularity of liberal initiatives. But as the health care debate wound on, the President "reached across the aisle," seeking bipartisanship and compromising with Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats for one more (pleeese!) vote. All the while, support for reform eroded. And deals with the pharmaceutical and hospital industries, hardly liberal or pro-Democratic interest groups, hardly enhanced reform's popularity.

While Somerby accurately suggests that Arizona's new immigration law is popular, it is far from clear what that support implies. Results from polling questions on immigration/illegal immigration are notoriously susceptible to wording of the question and, given little analysis of the actual content of the Arizona legislation, it is unlikely that the American people are aware of critical details of the bill. Ask respondents what they think about immigrants not being able to speak English, and the results would be depressingly (to the left) conservative; ask them about the idea of "rounding up" illegal immigrants, and the result would be depressing for conservatives. Or at least the conservatives who want illegal immigrants deported which, for example, would not include Rush Limbaugh.

There is nothing which has eroded President Obama's popularity more than the still-lingering recession. Nothing succeeds with the public more than success, and Obama has not had much bringing unemployment numbers down.

But it didn't have to be that way. Liberal economist Paul Krugman blogged in January 2009 and reiterated in October 2009 "This really does look like a plan that falls well short of what advocates of strong stimulus were hoping for — and it seems as if that was done in order to win Republican votes." It would, he expected in January, limit the rise in unemployment, whose rate eventually would decline, but slowly.

The inadequacy of the stimulus was unsurprising to major economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Budget Director Christine Romer. But a larger stimulus, the President reasoned, would prompt attacks from the right and little cooperation from Republicans. And with the relatively measly stimulus, Obama got- attacks from the right and little cooperation from Republicans.

Obama's positions generally have been too timid, in terms of the policy and the politics If the President's radio message Saturday is any indication (which it probably isn't), the message may have finally gotten through to the administration- stake out a position, fight for what is right, project strength, and compromise only when necessary.

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