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Thursday, 29 July 2010 01:02

The Smart, Democratic Strategy of Looking Back

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"The past is not fugitive, it stays put" -- Marcel Proust

Or, the more commonplace line of that most uncommon genius Shakespeare, "Whereof what's past is prologue."

Rather difficult campaign slogans, to be sure. But it's the sentiment that counts. So, whether through inspired literature or divine revelation or some inescapable temporality bellowing that they were losing this thing big time, President Obama and House Democrats have re-choreographed their midterm strategy; they've decided to gang-thump the GOP for its previous sins -- to resurrect the frightful specter of Barton, Boehner, and Bachmann as the living ghosts of Bush/Cheney -- and "to put Republicans on defense," as The Hill characterized it, "by forcing them to explain where ... they would lead the country should they win control of Congress."

As you may recall, the strategic antecedent had the president doing just that, yet House Dems were to pretend that the already nationalized election was merely one of 435 local concerns. Thankfully, someone at DCCC, grounded in rocket-bursting reality, deep-sixed that stroke of political illiteracy.

What's more, yesterday the DNC rolled out what one might call its anti-Republican Par-tea campaign -- "link[ing] the Republican Party to some of the most extreme elements of the 'tea party' movement," as the Washington Post reported, and portraying "all Republicans [as] cut from the same cloth as such tea party favorites as Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle and Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul."

A mostly valid claim. And to those GOPers who will righteously object that they haven't, say, joined the Tea Party Caucus, hence the DNC's campaign is but the fabric of scurrilous distortions, well, they should have made their ideological independence clear, from the get-go, rather than pandering to anarchic tea-partying mobs and their far-right rhetoric.

I would contend, however, that Democrats' greater success will spring from their linking of today's Republicans to yesterday's Bush/Cheney, a vivid, nightmarish twosome of unforgettable horror.

"We need to go back to the exact same agenda that is empowering the free enterprise system rather than diminish it." Those were the imperishably oblivious words of Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, just two Sundays ago, on "Meet the Press." As I wrote the following morning, "That's the clip that should be going viral," rather than the one that did: Sessions' laughable circumlocutions in response to David Gregory's dog-on-pants-leg questioning about balancing the budget.

Now, the NRCC's unrehabilitated ideology is to become a prominent target. "The pressure is going to be on Republicans to explain what they would do if they were given back the keys to the car," said a Democratic aide to The Hill. They have explained it.

Yet, there's a corollary. Sessions' insistence wasn't just ideologically driven economic hogwash. It was something of equal malignance but which the American electorate all too often forgets: When Republicans rule, they rule as an uncompromising monolith, precisely because of their ideological enslavement. And in the long run of any a pluralistic, representative democracy, that's both immensely destructive and simply unworkable.

I'm reminded of the historian Robert Remini's appearance on C-Span last weekend, who said that when writing his biography of Henry Clay he had toyed with the thought of subtitling it "The Great Compromiser." Remini's historian friend, Arthur Schlesinger, however, advised against. Americans don't understand what compromise means, said Schlesinger (with perhaps a touch of hyperbole). They think it means the selling out of one's principles, when in practice it means the opposite -- a critical motif upon which Clay, throughout his splendid career, played.

Absent compromise, one alternative is that extremism reigns -- something "consensus" historians of the mid-20th century, having lived through the monstrous extremes of fascism and Stalinism, so keenly abhorred.

The other alternative -- one more relevant to contemporary America -- is that nothing gets done; absent compromise, opposing extremes only butt heads.

For the moment, anyway, Obama and progressive Congressional Democrats must do more internal compromising (that is, with conservative Democrats) than with Republicans (except for a necessary, idiosyncratic few, such as Maine's senators), since the latter are as opposed to judicious compromise as much as inflexible "movement" progressives.

Realistic, digestible, incremental progress over wholesale reactionaryism: that's really the simplified core of what Obama and his progressive allies are selling. That's the essential message, however inseparable are those enduring reminders of America's wretched direction under Bush and Cheney and their whole rotten cohort.

***

Note: I've received numerous queries, and the answer is, sometime in August I'll be returning to pmcarpenter.blogs.com. See you there, and many thanks -- Phillip (P.M.) Carpenter

  

Read 1242 times Last modified on Thursday, 29 July 2010 02:52