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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Where Do We Go From Here?

The title asks a question, so here is a picture of The Question.
The last few weeks have, with good reason, worried liberals and others.  Once again, we have seen the only political party that even attempts to speak for any of our concerns fail horribly.  The debt ceiling debate was an inherently winnable policy fight on a number of different grounds.  While the ultimate deal (as we noted in its aftermath) is better than we could expect considering how badly the Democratic leadership failed, it still amounts to a loss in terms of the debate.  It legitimizes Republican bad economics.  It legitimizes "austerity".  None of this is particularly good.

Given all that, it's worth taking a moment to figure out how the Democratic Party can recover strategically from this sort of a failure.  It's a good question.  Fortunately, there are answers.

As it happens, with Congress going into recess, the President has an opportunity to reshape the debate.  It seems that he already planned to do that as well, as he's scheduled a tour of the Midwest, allegedly to discuss the jobs issue.  With Congress in recess, all eyes will be on the President for a while.  In a real way, this is nearly the beginning of the 2012 campaign season for him.  The next couple weeks are a good opportunity to set up and retool for the campaign in the wake of a fairly significant defeat.

If what we get is the Campaign version of the President, rather than the actual President of the last year or so, then this tour could re-energize some of the base and create a groundswell of support for spending on jobs.  This is important both in terms of fixing the economy, but also politically.  People are still worried about high unemployment and the dearth of good-paying jobs, and for good reason.  With Congress quiet for a while the President can stake out a position as being more serious about jobs than the Republicans in Congress.  More important, a return of Candidate Obama could see more pushback against failed and outright wrong Republican policy ideas.

Now, some of that of course depends on the White House and President Obama realizing the position that they are in.  While they have handled some things decently, the recent debt ceiling fight does call the President's policy goals and overall political judgment into question in a way that previous events have not.  Given the alternative (a hypothetical President Perry, President Bachmann or President Romney), we need to hope that the President is able to seize this opportunity and show more of the acumen we thought we could expect.

That's all just about the Presidency though.  While ensuring that the White House stays out of the hands of the GOP is a worthy goal, there are other considerations.  The Senate picture is not pretty, and of course the House is currently in GOP hands.  It would be a Pyrrhic victory to re-elect President Obama but have neither house of Congress.  So there needs to be some focus there if there is to be a hope of defending any sort of sanity in the national political structure.

Of course, it seems like the President is more than capable of taking care of business on the campaign trail, and is outfundraising...well, everyone.  That makes the course of action obvious for liberals annoyed with the President.  There are going to be plenty of Congressional candidates out there who need your help, time, and money.  So give it to them instead!  That would be a lot more productive, and have a better chance of success, than trying to primary President Obama.

It doesn't just stop there either.  There are local races and concerns too.  More involvement from liberals in city and county party organizations can, over time, push the center of the party further left.  In turn, that will push the realm of "acceptable" and "sensible" policies along with it.  That's a long-term goal of course, but it needs to start sometime.

Overall, the failure in the debt ceiling deal really underscores how much work there is for liberals to do right now.  We've seen what happens when Republicans try to "govern" (hint: they don't).  And we've also seen what happens when the party that tries to represent us acts like everything is business as usual (hint: they fail).  There are opportunities to fix things, though, and we need to take advantage of them.  And if we're lucky, and we try to do more, then as 2012 approaches just maybe we'll see the Democratic party start to do the same.

Or maybe we're all screwed.  But at least we can think about a way out.  And maybe it'll work.

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