Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More about suckers

As if to prove that my opinions are the exact rehash of an axis loosely defined around Duncan Black and Heather Parton, there's been a recent article about liberals as suckers. Since linkrot will undoubtedly make anything on the Washington Post's web site go away soon, it's by Sally Kohn, and has the unwieldy title "Liberals pride themselves on being tolerant. Are they really just suckers?" Sample quote:

What is the problem here? Is it a lack of leadership from the White House, a failure to out-mobilize the tea party or not enough long-term investment from liberal donors?

The real problem isn’t a liberal weakness. It’s something liberals have proudly seen as a strength — our deep-seated dedication to tolerance. In any given fight, tolerance is benevolent, while intolerance gets in the good punches.

In a word, no. That misses the point. As does digby's discussion of the article. The problem is not that liberals are being suckers in their negotiations with the Right. The problem is that they are being suckers in their negotiations with their own leadership.

The article assumes that Obama and ordinary progressives/liberals have the same interests, and the same mindset, so that if Obama is mushy in his talks with the GOP, it's just another example of liberals not being firm enough in defending their beliefs. Their mindset is assumed to be the same as his. Or, in a slight variation, Obama isn't firm because ordinary liberals don't want him to be. That may be true, for all I know, but also misses the point. Obama's interests, and Democratic leadership interests more generally, are not the same as those of the people who they purport to speak for.

Obama wants what's good for him. Some leaders might be motivated by loyalty downwards, but it's become abundantly clear that Obama has none. But that's a distraction too. Institutionally, the Democratic Party has to please powerful constituencies that have a lot more leverage than the liberals/progressives, who can be safely written off as having to support the party no matter what. The same isn't true of the banks.

This is a very typical agency problem, and as is typical of our society, which is increasingly dominated by elites, it's handled badly. Look at corporations and their management, say. Are the interests of management really aligned with the interests of shareholders? Or look at the way that high unemployment just isn't a problem for elites in America at all.

The only way that liberals can get Democratic leadership's interests to align with theirs is to credibly threaten to make them lose. It's not hard to understand at all. Liberals have no leverage over the Right, who are going to keep on doing their own crazy thing without asking whether liberals approve of it or not. Ordinary liberals have no way to "get tough" with the Right in a legislative sense, because they aren't legislators. America is a representative democracy, after all, not a direct one. They can only help to choose the people who will do the actual legislative or executive negotiating. And it's that interface between voters and Democratic pols that they've been complete suckers with regard to. All the leadership has to do is utter one more bleat about "look how crazy the GOP is!" And yes, they are crazy, and the Dem leadership has been very lucky to have such crazy opposition. But if the base is always going to blink first, well -- we know how that goes.

Would a re-run of the Bush years be bad? Yes, it would. Would it be worse than the Obama years -- which codify everything that Bush did wrong, make it bipartisan, and ensure that liberals can never win even with the best possible electoral result, in exchange for a few token victories? No, I'm not sure if they would. Before Obama, liberals at least had hope in the electoral process. Now there is none.

Edited to add: obligatory Greenwald. Obama really is a con man who is systematically doing everything that he promised differentiated him from Bush. But so what? In our culture, con men are admirable. The people who we have contempt for are the suckers who let the con men get away with it. See, for instance, any movie about cons.


  1. There is something progressives can do
    www.libfoto.com - Liberals For a One Term Obama: we will work as hard as we can to oppose Obama in the primaries; if we loose, we support him as better then the GOP.
    Is it practical ? I havn't done all the math, but not that many people turn out for Iowa and NH; a real liberal - if there are any, maybe Russ Finegold -but not B Sanders or Kucinich,- could do it

  2. Monday night's Daily Show, demonstrated how weak and lily livered the Democratic left. Discussing the singing protest over the treatment of Manning at the Obama fundraiser in Silicon Valley, Stewart ended the segment by saying that he is now getting a better understanding of Code Pink. The alleged hippy-punched left: paid nearly $80k for a table from which to sing, the leader voluntarily walked out peacefully, and the rest of the table told Obama how much they loved him. These people are remoras.

  3. Well, i found two people who aren't suckers:
    Lupe Fiasco calling Obama one of the bigger terrorists and Daniel Ellsberg: