Loyal to a Fault

by , posted on Monday, July 18th, 2011 at 7:35 am

Like a lot of progressives, I’ve been troubled by the President’s response to the debt ceiling crisis which Republicans in Congress have been engineering lately. I’m not a deficit hawk. I believe we need more social investment, not less. So, as far as I’m concerned, both sides of this negotiation are on the wrong side of the debate.

And it’s not just that allowing the debate to narrow in this manner leads us to bad policy choices. It’s also bad politics.

Having the nominal leader of the Democratic Party himself opening the door to the possibility of Medicare cuts, even if it’s just some sort of negotiating ploy, undercuts the efficacy of a key campaign message that Democrats need to be able to run on in 2012: opposition to the desire of Paul Ryan and the Republicans to cut Medicare.

So, when the Progressive Change Campaign Committee began circulating a petition that it hoped would stiffen Obama’s spine in these negotiations, I signed on. And I posted a link to it on my Facebook wall as well, hoping that others of a like mind would sign the pledge, too.

Here’s what the petition said:

President Obama: If you cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits for me, my family, or families like mine, don’t ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012. I’m going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates who will fight to protect our Democratic legacy.

Some local Democrats were not pleased with the idea of such a pledge, among them noted Democratic explorer John Atkinson. Atkinson—who spent much of this year exploring IL-03, hunting for Dan Lipinski’s seat, until he lost his map and decided to do a little exploring in the newly discovered IL-11—thought the PCCC pledge was “ridiculous.”

Now, Atkinson chose not to elaborate on what, exactly, he thought was ridiculous about all of this, but I think we can safely assume that he has no objection to Obama putting cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on the table. And this should come as no surprise. He is, after all, an insurance industry executive when he’s not off

exploring the world of politics. The insurance racket has made him a very wealthy man. So wealthy that he has, in recent years, showered Democratic candidates with campaign contributions. So many contributions, in fact, both out of his own pocket and raised from others, that he has been rewarded by the Democratic Party, in turn, with seats on the Democratic National Committee’s National Advisory Board and National Finance Committee.

No doubt, John Atkinson trusts the President to do the right thing here. Didn’t Obama deliver health care “reform” in just the form that the insurance industry wanted it? Mandates, with no public option, to say nothing of single-payer? And consider this: what would cuts to Social Security and Medicare mean for the

insurance industry? Any chance they might be able to sell a few more supplemental policies? No, I’m sure Atkinson is behind Barack Obama 100%, even if it means there are cuts to these social safety net programs. Especially if there are cuts to these social safety net programs. What Obama is proposing is good for business if you’re in John Atkinson’s business. To expect him to sign on to something like the PCCC pledge would be, well, ridiculous.

But here’s what Obama loyalists who object to tactics like the PCCC pledge don’t get: even if Obama has no intention of listening to those who are pushing him from his left flank, they are nevertheless useful to him. They strengthen his hand. Lawrence O’Donnell explained this quite clearly on The Last Word Friday night.

O’Donnell: Adam Green, the head of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and a friend of this show, has been among the loudest and most effective progressive objectors to the President’s consideration of cuts in Medicare and Social Security spending.

Today his group delivered 200,000 petitions to President Obama’s campaign headquarters warning about entitlement cuts. These are 200,000 people saying they will not contribute money to, or volunteer hours to, an Obama re-election campaign if he agrees to any cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security spending during these debt negotiations with the Republicans. And these are people who have contributed money to Obama before, and have volunteered for him before.

These protesters are actually helping the President’s negotiating position, strengthening it, as well as his public appearance of being reasonable in the eyes of independents and swing voters by adding credibility to statements like this

Obama: I’ve already taken some heat from my party for being willing to compromise.

O’Donnell: I’ve been in the room, in the White House, in the Capitol, with politicians who are the subjects of that kind of protest with their party when they are trying to compromise, and they always, always cite that protest when negotiating with the other side. They always say, in effect, “Look at how hard this is for me to do. Look out there. Look at the protest I’m getting from my own party, my own people. They don’t want me to do this.” And, in fact, in such meetings, I have heard such politicians frankly admit that they can not possibly compromise on a given point because of such protests.

Now make no mistake here, I am not in any way demeaning these protests as some kind of stunt. I’m telling you I have seen these protests have their intended effect and I have seen them have additional beneficial effects for the negotiating estrength of the politician being protested against, the politician being pushed by his own supporters in a certain direction. Publicly pushed.

The politics of governing are far more complex then the politics of campaigning. Indeed, it is the unwritten volume. There are a few great books out there about the politics of campaigning. There is not one about the politics of governing.

Loyalty is a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with standing by your man. But when you are so intolerant of dissent from what you believe to be the party line that you end up shooting yourself in the foot, then I think it’s fair to say that you are loyal to a fault.


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3 Responses to “Loyal to a Fault”

  1. IL JimP says:

    I also found this pledge ridiculous. The PCCC/Bold Progressives and their ilk are just raising money and not doing anything to help the cause or the only party that has a chance to do anything about their goals. All anyone had to do was listen to what the President and the White House actually said to know this was just another whipped up story to divide progressives. That’s all that the Adam Greens; the Jane Hamshers; the Glen Greenwalds; and the David Sirotas of the progressive movement are accomplishing all the while making themselves very wealthy in the process.

    Always looking to be outraged and never acknowledging the progressive that has been made isn’t helping anyone. It isn’t helping anyone get a job. It’s not helping us get the crazy GOP out of office. It’s not helping. Let’s start working together to acknowledge the good that has been done and make the efforts to improve where improvements need to be made. Personal attacks on progressives that you might disagree with or personal attack on the President won’t get you what you want.

    It just makes people tune you out.

  2. n0madic says:

    Actually, the point Lawrence O’Donnell makes above is that pressure like the kind we’ve just seen PCCC attempt to exert does help. It can help those on the left flank of a politician get more of what they want sometimes, and it always helps the politicians in the middle of the negotiations themselves, even when they have no interest in doing what their critics want, by strengthening their hand in the negotiations with the other side. Do you think O’Donnell is wrong about this?

    And I’m not aware of having made any personal attacks on progressives or the President. What are you referring to?

    • IL JimP says:

      I didn’t mean you made the attacks, honestly this is the first story I’ve read of yours. I was referring the others in my comment.

      Lawrence O’Donnell, I think, is just trying to make himself feel better. The problem is if all there is fake outrage to drive hits to sites and to raise money, it’s not helping. That’s what I’m seeing, especially from the latest “outrage” referenced in your story. The came from a Washington Post story that got it wrong.

      It seems to me it’s always about yelling about some outrage or betrayal the the President has supposedly made than acknowledging any of the progress we have made the last 3 years and working to take us the rest of the way.

      Again, I’m not talking about you since I don’t know your writing well enough to say one way or the other.

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