Friday, February 27, 2009

New Democratic Organization Wants To Chase Moderates Out of Office

A group of left-leaning Democrats have created a new organization called "Accountability Now," which will sponsor election challenges against moderate Democrats. The group, which has support from MoveOn.Org and the Service Employees International Union, hopes to move Democrats in Congress to the left, so that they will support President Obama's initiatives and respond to the people who elected them.

Two Things
First: Politics is very local. Many moderate Democrats embrace the center due to their own ideological background and for political necessity. This is true of both parties. Blue-state Republicans and red-state Democrats are often moderates. And their constituents (or "the people who elected them") are moderates as well.

If Accountability Now does not recognize this, its efforts could fail or even backfire (i.e., cause the election of Republicans). Republican candidates could take advantage of discord among Democrats. Also, in order to gain money and other assistance from the group, candidates could "punk" the organization by running to the left during the primaries but then dashing to the center in the general election -- which leads me to my second "thing."

Second thing: Why does the group believe that Obama wants to move or that he will move to the left? I strongly believe that social movement pressure can force moderate presidents to the left or right. Accordingly, I admire the efforts of liberals, including the founders of Accountability Now, who choose to organize around progressive politics. But I have not witnessed broad social movement activity surrounding Obama, and I doubt that one organization can do the work required of many.

According to opinion polls, Democrats (and independents) remain extraordinarily pleased with Obama. Consequently, most liberal activists have done very little in terms of publicly criticizing or pushing him on any issue. Many liberals have in fact defended him or remained remarkably silent even though he has replicated some policies (such as rendition, use of state secrets privilege, etc.) that the Left passionately contested during the Bush administration. So long as most voters remain pleased with Obama, he will have no incentive to move to the left (or right). Concerted pressure might accomplish this goal, but Accountability Now needs help from other progressives.

Finally, during the Democratic primaries, groups like MoveOn.Org and Service Employees International Union proudly supported Obama, whom they portrayed as a leftist dream come true. Now that Obama has grabbed the political center and has even embraced some of Bush's most despised policies, these groups believe they need to push him and other Democrats to the left. Even though they mistakenly assumed that Obama was a leftist, they still insist that they can isolate "real" leftists to challenge moderate Democrats and that their handpicked leftists will then push Obama -- whom they previously believed was a leftist -- to the left. Well, even though I'm cynical, I'll keep my eyes on this one -- and even send a contribution!


Jason Papanikolas said...

This strategy has never worked for conservatives. I don't know why liberals suddenly think it will work better for them.

I think that you hit the nail right on the head. Politics are local, esp. where Congressmen are concerned.

In college, I interned for the moderate Democrat Tim Roemer of Indiana during the Clinton impeachment saga. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn't with the constituents of his district. I also remember the White House bringing significant weight to bear on him, but in the end, he crossed over and voted with Republicans for impeachment. It was a smart decision for his perspective, but not something that groups like MoveOn and Accountability Now would ever want Democrats to do.

I also agree that Obama is a center-left politician (though he leans far left on most social issues). If he is serious about bipartisanship, then tacking to the left is a horrible idea.

Evidence for this can be found in the stimulus package. Most Americans are still leery about its contents. Obama hasn't taken the hit, though, because he has been able to largely pass the blame onto Congress, which I think is far more left-leaning than Obama is. If Americans agree with this reasoning (I'm not saying that they do, but it's suggestive based on the polling), then electing more staunch liberals to Congress could actually lead to a backlash of the same variety that got Republicans thrown out of office in droves.

BTW, is this the same group that harassed, intimidated, and threatened Republicans donors during the last election cycle or a new group with the same name?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I think the country has always been center-to-right, so the rightwing has not always had to organize too much. But even so, conservatives have been able to stop leftward shifts and accomplish conservative change.

I could map out an historical sketch of this (looking at Reconstruction and beyond), but even in modern times, the conservative movement got a lot of mileage politicizing affirmative action, abortion, toughness in foreign policy, and fiscal conservatism in order to elect Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. This allowed for the appointment of conservative justices, the articulation of conservative legislation and a far more conservative judicial approach to "equal protection" and "fundamental rights" under the constitution.

The Left has had success on these issues too. I believe the Left, however, may not remember how to do things. And maybe the entire Republican Party is a bit confused at this point.

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