Saturday, June 14, 2014

From protesting to governing

Paul Waldman has written a great analysis of what ails the tea partiers. I hope he won't mind if I make a few alterations in order to show that the same thing applies to some on the left. Lets start with the tag line:
As far as the activist base is concerned, the very act of taking office is little more than a prelude to betrayal.
For far too many liberals, their "disappointment" started the moment President Obama was sworn in. Lets dig in and see why.
...they have embraced a permanent revolution, in which it's necessary to fight not just against Democrats Republicans but against Republicans Democrats as well, since every GOP Democratic leader is little more than a traitor waiting to be revealed...

...the very act of joining the Republican Democratic leadership is enough to make clear to them that you're on the wrong side. People in the leadership organize things, try to master the system, and plan legislative strategy. All of that is suspect at best; the only true conservative liberal, true conservatives liberals will tell you, is the one pounding on the gates from the outside...

...whoever that president is, he will never be able to satisfy this base; indeed, by the very act of taking office and beginning to govern he will have assured them that betrayal is on its way. Their rage will endure. But maybe that's just how they like it.
Of course the Republican leadership was initially able to embrace the protesters in a way that Democrats should never contemplate. That's because the angry protester facilitates their agenda. Remember this from a Mike Lofgren, former Republican staffer?
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
Now that Sen. McConnell's goal of making Obama a one-term president has been defeated and the protesters are coming after their own, all this is not working out so well for the Republicans. They thought their top-down control was sufficient and that they could unleash the angry protesters to do their bidding. But now that strategy is coming back to haunt them.

My point is that eventually protesting has to lead to governing. Otherwise its just permanent rage. I don't remember civil rights leaders calling for the defeat of Senators Dirksen, Kuchel, Humphrey and Mansfield when they crafted a compromise that ended the filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to get it passed in the Senate. That compromise weakened the bill. But rather than continue protesting, it was time to govern - which meant taking the victory and moving on to the next fight.

That is the dance that activists and elected politicians must continually choreograph in order to be effective (insiders vs outsiders). I'd suggest that one of the reasons for our heightened polarization right now is that too many people have forgotten that reality.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks SP for helping me understand the dynamics that have been so disheartening. This is amazing:
    "By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

    A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media."
    Smilingl8dy

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