Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Democratic Story

Over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight, one of the more genuinely intellectually honest Christian Democrats out there, declares that the Democrats have no story. I think he's right, and that's astounding, considering the man they elected as president.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats require a strong storyline. After all, they favor bold political solutions that require sacrifices from the voter. Republicans have the easy task of yelling "stop!". Suffices to say, stop is the zeitgeist.

For Democrats, this is all a bit tricky. Whereas conservatives dominate the Republican party, the ideological base of the Democratic party is smaller. A leaner percentage of Democrats identify as liberals. As such, what one segment of the party might find to be a compelling narrative might be anathema to the other.

The most effective compromise has been thus. First, spin the narrative of competence (e.g. Obama's "car in the ditch" scenario) that appeals to the less ideological wing of the party, as well as independents, while banking on the reliability of the liberal vote.

Second, champion personal autonomy and personal freedom. Standing up to big business and embracing individual liberties and civil rights keeps the liberals in line, without alienating independents.

Just about everyone on both sides of the aisle (except me) expected Obama to project competence. His cool demeanor and confident cadence seemed to portend to a statesmanship that never materialized.

Part of the problem is that Obama hasn't picked his battles. He went out of his way to throw himself in front of the BP oil spill for some reason. He used his most important presser on the health care debate to opine on a police controversy in Cambridge.

He has repeatedly placed rhetorical bets on an imminent recovery (8.5%, Recovery Summer) that has yet to materialize. It's tough to be seen as competent when you are so frequently wrong.

On the liberty and autonomy, it's safe to say Democrats have lost control of the narrative. Part of this is circumstantial. Gay marriage has been established as the next frontier of civil rights advocacy. However, voters in all states have roundly rejected the right for homosexuals to marry.

The autonomy argument, the vehicle by which Democrats have found themselves so frequently on the right side of history, holds no sway. This isn't about where one may sit on a bus. The institution of marriage is, by definition, a governmental imposition. There is no inherent right to marry (not least of which because marriage entails consent), and so the autonomy argument is unpersuasive.

Congress made a big show of tsk-tsking Goldman Sachs in a very public hearing, only to follow up with toothless legislation drafted by former, um, Goldman Sachs execs. Credit Republicans for getting their heads out of their asses and making the case that expanded government entails expanded influence of industry, but why did the Democrats let them beat them to the punch.

Here as well, Obama hasn't selected his battles wisely. His position on the Ground Zero mosque required Americans to abandon what they perceive to be common sense. The Boston cops thing was an unnecessarily public serving of red meat to the liberal base.

And who was asking for a bailout of Chrysler?

He has also missed opportunities. One of the biggest surefire political winners of this generation is childhood obesity. Yet, Obama outsourced the issue to the wifey. Why not use this as an opportunity to wage war against Monsanto, one of the most manifestly despicable companies in the world, thereby tying together the narratives of competence and liberty, all in the name of the CHILLLLLLDDDDREEENNNNNN!!!!!!!

Blanche Lincoln is on the Ag committee. That's why. Hardly seems worth it.

Why not use the power of government to pursue fraudulent lenders, most of whom continue to pollute the housing market with toxic loans? Establish law and order! Help struggling homeowners!

Chris Dodd.

So instead of pursuing a moderate agenda, that would have laid the framework for a bigger push toward, say, health care reform, the Barack Obama deferred to Congress, which mortgaged the farm to bail out members of congress who won't be around next year anyway.

To his credit, Scot McKnight urges Democrats to stop going after Republicans. After the way the last 18 months have gone, I can't believe this even needs to be said.

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