A Rejoinder to the ‘New Normal’

Our longtime TPM Reader JB says man up …

Your reader “JM” offers a counsel of despair, one that very honestly I rather expect from Democrats (especially the most liberal Democrats) during times of political adversity.

I expect Democrats to be unreflective about their own failures, utterly convinced that history is something that just happens to them, terrified of Republicans, and resentful that Republican misdeeds are not repudiated by the public without the need for any coaxing from Democrats.  I expect liberal Democrats to partake fully in the great American national vices, self-admiration and self-congratulation, without sharing in the compensating American virtue of faith in the country and its institutions.  I expect liberal Democrats to react to adversity in ways Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman would not recognize.

You know enough political history to recall that Roosevelt generation of Democrats hung the name of Herbert Hoover around the necks of their political opponents for a generation after 1932.  Reagan-era Republicans did the same, for a shorter period of time and less dramatically, with the name of Jimmy Carter after 1980.  It’s not the Republicans’ fault — or the product of any Republican “strategy” — that the President who was more unpopular for longer than any President since the invention of modern opinion polling was allowed to vanish without a trace by January 22, 2009.  

George W. Bush’s invisibility, and the profoundly Bush-like Mitt Romney’s lack of any public identity as a “Bush Republican,” were the product of Democratic choices.  So was the inadequate stimulus package at the beginning of 2009 that ensured a crushing recession that began under a Republican administration would not draw an effective government response under a Democratic administration.  So was the disappearance from memory of the politicized, demoralized Justice Department of Alberto Gonzales, and the inept, crony-laden FEMA leadership that had let New Orleans drown.  

So was the expanded, hope-centered military commitment in Afghanistan, doubling down on a bet that the Bush administration had already lost.  So was the Obama administration’s surrender to the financial services industry on regulation in wake of a monumental market disaster for which that industry was largely responsible.  So was the administration’s negotiating with itself on health care reform.  So was the Democrats’ embrace of the rot pervading Congress as an institution:  the abandonment of oversight, the casual acceptance of corruption, the inability to pass even one appropriations bill on time when Democrats had majorities in both the House and the Senate.  So was President Obama’s immersion in permanent campaign culture, fully as great as Bush’s had been and aptly symbolized by the regular use of electioneering hands like David Axelrod and David Plouffe as administration spokesmen on serious, substantive issues of national policy.

Choices made by Obama and his Democratic allies were what they were.  It is perhaps evident that I regard most of them as mistakes with respect to policy substance, but for our purposes here what matters is that they were political mistakes.  In the simplest English I know:  the United States does not make a black man President of the United States unless Americans have decided a huge change from what they had before is necessary.  

The ill repute George W. Bush had earned for the Republicans was what made Barack Obama President:  not his “story,” not the “hope and change” schtick, not that community organizer business, and not his army of self-consciously self-admiring campaign consultants.  That’s the political asset Obama and the Democrats cast away, by choice, right from the beginning.

As you know, Josh, I’m not a Democrat.  What sympathy I have for Barack Obama and the staggering burden under which he labors is due to his being President, not to any partisan feeling or particular ideological affinity.  Beyond that, though, I just see a lot of Johnny Fontaine in your party:  facing political adversity during a very difficult time for the country, talking about being terrified for the future, head in hands and complaining about cleverer, more powerful men who won’t give them what they want.  “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do.”

      You can be a man.