There’s a bit of a dispute going on right now among Democratic bloggers. I’m drawing a very broad outline here so I’m probably overlooking some nuances, but in general, those involved divide into two groups: those who think it’s proper and effective to criticize President Obama from the left and those who think Obama has done as well as any Democrat could under the circumstances and that any fire should be concentrated on Republicans. The former group is led, or at least exemplified (“leading” Democratic bloggers is even more meaningless than herding cats), by Jane Hamsher, founder and principal blogger at FireDogLake. Prominent members of the other camp include John Cole, principal blogger at Balloon Juice, and the pseudonymous blogger/Twitterer Shoq.
Inasmuch as I think Obama, for better or (mostly) worse, is doing exactly what he has chosen to be doing on most policy issues, I’m not sure this dispute, whether either side wins, will have much effect on policy outcomes. And, just to complicate things, 1) I’m a Republican and 2) I’ve already called for Obama to be impeached for ordering the extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen, even as I grant that a lot of good stuff has happened under him that would not have happened under John McCain, so it’s not like I’m the world’s most objective observer.
My best guess is that an excess of Obama criticism, without an accompanying, workable solution, will just lead to a lot of Democratic (or anti-Republican) voters staying home in 2012, as happened in 2010. And if that happens, given the GOP field, I see no way disaster does not befall the country.
But David Atkins, who blogs as “thereisnospoon” over at Digby’s place, cites a report by Dave Dayen at FDL to offer an intriguing suggestion of what the Obama critics on the Left might be able to accomplish … based on what they already have accomplished. You may have heard over the weekend that GOP hopeful Mitt Romney defended corporations by saying, “Corporations are people” — a claim that is legally accurate but, in this economy, incredibly tone-deaf. It was an unforced error, and while I doubt it will hurt Romney’s quest for the nomination (which already faces signficant obstacles), if he does get the nomination it could kill him in the general election campaign.
Turns out that the group that prompted that error was one of those that criticizes Obama from the left:
In fact, the exchange with Romney started when an Iowa CCI member asked why shouldn’t we lift the payroll tax cap to bring long-term balance to Social Security. “The only position we have is no cuts, scrap the cap,” said Goodner.
Goodner acknowledged that the Supreme Court takes an attitude on corporations being people that is very similar to Mitt Romney. Goodner referenced a tweet by Ezra Klein, which said that Romney was right in the eyes of the law. “I don’t think the average Iowan is going to be sympathetic to that view,” Goodner added, however. “It shows how out of touch Romney is. From what he said, he stands on the side of big money corporations on Wall Street against everyday people.” Similarly, George Goehl, the Director of National People’s Action, a leader in the New Bottom Line project, said in a statement, “The corporations Mr. Romney believes are filling people’s pockets are the ones who crashed our economy and hijacked our democracy.”
Goodner and his group were not pleased with Romney’s full answer, where he touted so-called “progressive price indexing” (which would have to cut benefits well into the middle class to generate any savings) and raising the retirement age. “He’s talking about benefit cuts that are going to hurt seniors, the elderly, the poor and the disabled,” said Goodner. “And ask for nothing from the wealthiest Americans, and the companies on Wall Street.”
This sounds similar to what President Obama has been saying recently in support of a balanced deficit solution. But Iowa CCI isn’t exactly enthralled with his performance of late either. “Our members are very upset and angry at Obama,” Goodner said. “He was the one who put Social Security and Medicare on the table. We delivered a letter to his campaign office in Des Moines, telling him to back off, to take this off the table.” As it turns out, Obama will be in Peosta, Iowa next week, as part of a Rural Economic Forum. Iowa CCI has members there, but it’s not a public town hall meeting, so they are still strategizing about how to reach the President with their message. In the meantime, they are speaking to their representatives in Iowa (all of whom, Democratic or Republican, voted against the debt limit bill), or any other Democratic representatives, telling them to deliver their message to the President. It turns out that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is at the Iowa State Fair today, so we’ll see if anything transpires.
And they are adamant on this point. “Anytime a candidate or the President comes to Iowa, we’re going to bird-dog them,” Goodner said. “We put principles above party. They’re all going to hear from us.”
These are the sorts of activists who are persistent and get things done. They’re the sorts of activists who will be there on behalf of Democratic principles come rain or shine, come Republican or Democratic Administrations. All the Democratic Party needs to do is have their back, and they can make magic happen. Iowa CCI just did more for the Obama re-election campaign than $50 million of advertising dollars could ever hope to do, against the candidate whom all the polls show would likely be Obama’s most formidable opponent in the general election.
I question whether activists of this type get as much done as Atkins seems to be claiming in terms of policy outcomes, but he’s quite right that the party needs these folks for electoral success
The Coles and Shoqs of the blogosphere (both of whom I read and admire, I should point out) dismiss people like this as “Firebaggers” and PUMAs, which stands for Party Unity, My Ass. (The phrase arose during the epic combat between Obama and Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.) I don’t know who’s right, but I think their position might be a little simplistic: As long as you still turn out to support your party’s nominee, whoever it might be (given what’s likely going to be offered by the other side), why not pressure your party’s candidates, including the incumbent, during the primary season to hew to your view on the issues you care most about?
In fact, if not then, when? Once the nomination is sewed up, your ability to affect the framing of the issues is going to be diminished as long as candidates hew to the conventional wisdom that you win a general election by moving to the middle. (The merits of that conventional wisdom are questionable, given the current make-up of the electorate, but that’s a post for another time).