Monday, July 31, 2006

Checklist Liberalism

Mark Schmitt writes:

But it’s not working. Why? Two reasons: One of course is that Iraq, and the constellation of foreign policy and security failures it represents really is huge. And while Democrats can accept a fairly wide range of viewpoints, roughly from Biden’s make-it-work to Murtha’s get-out-now, only Lieberman’s stay-the-course is ridiculous. It’s pretty difficult to look at ANWR and Iraq and conclude that a good position on ANWR more than offsets a bad one on Iraq. (Especially if there’s no reason to think that Ned Lamont has a different position on ANWR or the other three buttons.)

The second reason is that Lamont supporters actually aren’t ideologues. They aren’t looking for the party to be more liberal on traditional dimensions. They’re looking for it to be more of a party. They want to put issues on the table that don’t have an interest group behind them - like Lieberman’s support for the bankruptcy bill -- because they are part of a broader vision. And I think that’s what blows the mind of the traditional Dems. They can handle a challenge from the left, on predictable, narrow-constituency terms. But where do these other issues come from? These are “elitist insurgents,” as Broder puts it - since when do they care about bankruptcy? What if all of a sudden you couldn’t count on Democratic women just because you said that right things about choice - what if they started to vote on the whole range of issues that affect women’s economic and personal opportunities?

But caring about bankruptcy, even if you’re not teetering on the brink of it or a bankruptcy lawyer yourself, is part of a vision of a just society. And a vision of a just society - not just the single-issue push-buttons of a bunch of constituency groups - is what a center-left political party ought to be about. And at the end of this fight, I don’t expect that we’ll have a more leftist Democratic Party, but one that can at least begin to get beyond checklist liberalism.

I think he's really hitting on some important here. Recently a congressional staffer was complaining about the fact that us blogofascists spend too much time criticizing Dems instead of going after Republicans, especially since the conservative wankosphere almost never criticizes their own. While there's perhaps some merit to that general complaint, I responded that Democrats aren't really used to getting criticism from their left. He looked at me like I was nuts and said they get it all the time from interest groups.

That's true, but it is a very different kind of criticism. It's a known dance. They know what the interest groups want, and know what they have to do to satisfy them, or not. Also, the interest group criticism doesn't really get into the media bloodstream, it comes mostly in private other than affecting endorsements.

The bankruptcy bill is the perfect example of legislation no one claiming to be a Democrat should support, and more than that one that every good Democrat should have opposed by any means at their disposable (including filibuster, Joe). It's the kind of legislation which is often marked as "centrist" by the media, as it's supported by a coalition of evil Republicans and self-described "moderate" Democrats, but there's nothing centrist or moderate about it. Unlike some other awful Republican legislation which conservatives have been trained to support (any tax cut, tort reform...) there was no popular support for this bill. It was a complete givewaway. It was just stealing from people and giving to campaign donors.

Failing to oppose the bankruptcy bill is one of the reasons brand Democrat has such problems. It's the type of thing which shouldn't require outside pressure. The bill was wrong. Everybody knows that. It was an evil sadistic piece of legislation which will destroy lives. Good Democrats shouldn't have needed to be pushed to oppose it.

On the Senate side, Democrats who voted for it:


Shame on them.

...adding, missed Bingaman.