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Democrats: Get Out Of "Lean Back" Mode Or Everything Will Die
Complacency Is A Fascist's Best Friend
There is a pernicious mindset that permeates American liberalism and its quasi-official outlet, the Democratic Party: Just lean back, everything will be fine.
The liberal/Democratic mindset believes that there are two separate silos for how political leaders must operate. They believe there is a “campaign season,” where its fine to openly pursue elected office and to make pointed criticism of those in the opposition.
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And then they believe there is something like an off season, when politics is put aside and lawmakers focus on policy, engaging in a good faith exchange of ideas and thoughts with the goal of furthering legislation. In this approach, the “best” outcome are laws and regulations that include best of breed ideas from across the political spectrum to appease a public who (in their minds) is always open to “good” ideas no matter the ideology.
Like most approaches within the world of current day liberalism, this is a fever dream living in a land of unreality.
But it leads to a repeated pattern of Democratic leaders collectively wiping their brows after a hard-fought election, putting politics aside and sleepwalking into a buzzsaw from the right.
Elections in America don’t end after Election Day. They don’t end when the votes are finally counted and certified, or when newly elected officials are sworn into office. Elections never end and it is always “election season.” This shouldn’t be this way, but neither you or I make the rules: This is how life is.
After an election, it is irresponsible for Democrats to offer up policy without attaching a healthy addition of politics to the policy. We saw this in excruciating form in the first year of President Barack Obama’s presidency in 2009, when Obama and his congressional allies essentially euthanized the historic political movement that swept Democratic majorities into Congress in 2006 and him into the White House in 2008.
The Obama agenda ran into the buzzsaw of Republican opposition before he even placed his hand on the Lincoln Bible. The opposition party did not take their shellacking in that election as an instruction to lie down and play dead, but instead dusted themselves off and launched even more piles of excrement at Obama, Democrats, and their joint agenda. It didn’t always work. The Obama administration got key legislation like the Recovery Act and Obamacare passed, but objectively the Democrats lost political steam and gave off something of a “loser” stink that contributed to losses in the 2010 midterms.
They repeated many of the behaviors exhibited by the Clinton administration after the 1992 election and we’ve seen it again from the Biden administration over the last two years.
All three Democratic administrations have gotten good legislation and policies in place, but they could have done a lot more and not suffer as much politically (which hurts in enacting policy) had they not leaned back so quickly.
What this means in a practical sense is that the “politics” light is never turned off. Policy is offered with the same partisan edge that election speeches and ads are delivered. Health care, for instance, is not merely something that needs reform that “everybody can agree on,” but is in fact a vital issue that progressive policy must be enacted on or else thousands will die due to the ongoing failures of conservative policy. The same must be done around every issue in the political sphere, no matter how small or large it happens to be. Nothing is outside of politics in this mindset.
That means abandoning fantasy talk of Republicans crossing the aisle for bipartisan legislation merely out of a sense of higher purpose (they don’t believe in that), and putting all issues in stark terms for the public at large.
No more massaging Republican hurt feelings and egos in an attempt to get conservative “buy-in.” If the case is strongly made to the public that the left approach is the sensible one and the right approach will (and has) lead to ruin and failure, this will either get Republicans on board or put them squarely in the sights of political rhetoric as the obstacles to the nirvana that the public demands.
It really is, to quote a famous Republican, “you’re either with us or against us.”
The pushback to this kind of thinking often asserts that this is not what the public wants. The public, it is said, wants bipartisan consensus and if Democrats throw too many elbows, it will turn off voters.
This is mostly nonsense since the vast majority of voters do not know what they actually want.
They know that when they’re interviewed by the media or in a focus group, the “right” thing is to say they want bipartisanship and consensus, but what people really want is results. The public wants elected officials to deliver for them and improve their lives in meaningful ways. They don’t actually care if the money to repair the bridge they drive to work on every day was appropriated in a bipartisan way or by a straight up party line vote, they just care that the bridge is repaired and won’t collapse and send their family to their death in a river.
Republicans have understood this approach for decades, and it is why the party has frequently been rewarded with power while standing next to a slate of issues that frequently polls terribly. They stand for something, and this demonstrates to their core voters that they are unyielding heroes in the face of what they and their affiliated media (especially Fox News) characterizes as a a left-wing onslaught against them. It doesn’t matter that these are bad things that never work. It’s something.
By contrast, the Democratic retreat from politics combined with this embarrassingly needy impulse to pursue bipartisanship tells their core supporters that despite everything promised during the engaging election season, when they’re in office the fight has dissolved. At the same time it tells the disinterested public that Democrats and liberals aren’t really showing up on one issue or another and the bad Republican/conservative position eats up all of the public consciousness.
What happens under these conditions is Democrats wiping their eyes somewhere between late August and September, scrambling to get back into politics mode, where they are greeted by a Republican Party in midseason form working with a public and media who have been swayed to the right because liberals were AWOL during the crucial period.
This has to stop. Liberals have to demand more assertiveness from the Democratic Party and not be cowed into silence, assuming any criticism will break a fragile coalition into a million pieces and “help the Republicans.” If liberalism is so fragile that it cannot withstand good-faith criticism, then it is rotten to the core anyway and needs major repair.
Long term, this mindset of just holding things together barely for a two-year period between elections is not sustainable. The fight has to be every day, all the time, without any offseason. Leaders who do not adopt this mindset have to step aside in favor of ones who believe in it.
If this isn’t done, the right will be given a free hand to embrace fascism while their purported opposition whines and wails, wondering how it all went so wrong.
Too many people will be killed and hurt if the nightmare scenario is allowed to happen. Time to stop leaning back.
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