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Way, way back in the heady days of the primary, before we knew who the Democratic nominee would be, while we were still duking it out for our respective favorite candidates, I wrote the following about Obama’s “big tent” style approach to politics:
This isn’t Clintonian triangulation. It’s actually worse than that. It’s unilaterally disarming before the first shot’s been fired.
and I quoted Ian Welsh when he said:
The time for the failed politics of compromise is over.
So, you’d think I’d be the last person sitting here defending Obama’s bipartisanship to the progressive left.
But that’s exactly what I find myself doing.
One person’s bipartisanship is, after all, another person’s divide-and-conquire-with-a-smiley-face-on-top, and I think this is Obama’s long-term strategy. After all, peeling independents and moderate Republicans away from right wing extremists is one of the strategies that he successfully used in the election, and we shouldn’t expect him to just throw this out the window upon assuming the Presidency.
GOPers lose when they are divided, as they were this last election. Their strength is when they unite lock-step behind their leader. So, what does Obama do? He subtly places a wedge in the party, dividing the moderate Republicans from the extremists. He calls out Rush Limbaugh (and no, Matthews, that wasn’t a mistake). He nominates Judd Gregg, the guy who wanted to abolish Commerce, as its head with the mission of making it stronger. He chides the GOP’s “failed philosophies of the past” while insisting on their input into the stimulus package.
The strategy here is clear: take the remaining moderate Republicans away from the extremists and govern not necessarily from the center, but with a popular consensus. It isn’t a strategy that will win him a lot of support from those of us who’d like to see the backside of the Republican party for the next decade, if not the next century, but it is a way of consolidating power and shoring up a popular mandate for change. We may not like it, and we may not think it’ll amount to a hill of beans after everything is said and done. That’s okay.
But what Obama is doing is far more radical than the cliche “changing the tone in Washington”. He is attempting to rearrange the electorate so that he has the political capital to push for universal health care, reform the tax structure to favor working people and push for a host of items that the extremists on the right would label “socialism”.
So, fellow progressives…criticize him. Take him to task as needed – part of making this dynamic work is having a strong voice from the left.
But stop the handwringing. We’re not DOOOOOOMED! We haven’t “failed”.
The fight has just begun.