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Quote of the Day (So Far!)

Michael Walzer on the Democratic dilemma.

9:18 AM, Mar 10, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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The election of Barack Obama was supposed to usher in a New New Deal. James Carville gushed that Democrats would rule for 40 years. But Obama has had great difficulty enacting his agenda, mainly because the public is opposed to it. Health care reform is in trouble and cap and trade is dead. The stimulus blew a trillion dollar hole in the budget and the economy still shed 4 million jobs in 2009.

Quote of the Day (So Far!)

Philosopher Michael Walzer

Why hasn't Obama "pivoted" to jobs, like the White House said he would do? Because he understands that he's done what he can -- if all the stimulus did was save the jobs of state and municipal government employees, then $15 billion in temporary, targeted payroll tax exemptions will not spur recovery. After the pivot, Obama would have nothing to do but cheerlead and wait until the economy recovered on its own (which it seems already to be slowly doing). At least health care reform gives him something to talk about.

What Obama has definitely created is a right-wing counter-punch. Political philosopher Michael Walzer describes the left's dilemma well in the new issue of Democracy. Here's Walzer:

1993 doesn’t seem so different, but the ’30s and the ’60s were very different. In those decades there was a vibrant left politics, a movement politics, a grassroots politics, which doesn‘t exist today. The labor movement, the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement–all these drove politics leftward. By contrast, Obama’s liberalism has no base. I am sure that surveys would show that he has a lot of support on the issues, maybe even majority support, but this is the kind of support that manifests itself almost entirely in opinion polls, not in the streets or in union halls and churches. What is necessary for a strong leftward pendulum swing is some form of mass mobilization. In addition to the people who tell pollsters that they would like, or would have liked, say, an extension of Medicare to people in their 50s, there have to be people who go to meetings, march in demonstrations, organize in their communities, raise money, and make enough noise so that politicians start worrying about their re-election. The right has been mobilized in exactly that way, at the base, for decades now–through the evangelical churches, the National Rifle Association, the anti-abortion movement, and much more. But since the right also has corporate power and vast amounts of money on its side, mobilization is less critical for it. For the left, it is everything. The only advantage we have is numbers–or, that’s the advantage we used to have.

I'd second the notion that the left does not have that advantage any more. As Walzer notes, it is the right that is marching in the streets. All the energy is there. Which is why you see Democrats from Nancy Pelosi to Eric Massa (on Glenn Beck yesterday) to James Hoffa attempt to co-opt the Tea Party movement.

Perhaps that energy will dissipate over time. Or perhaps it will grow stronger and culminate in the election of a new, Republican president in 2012. We really don't know. We do know that political conditions rarely stay the same for long. Democracy is a quarterly; Walzer and the others who participated in its must-read symposium wrote their essays at a low point. If Obama signs health care reform into law, he will once again be apotheosized to no end. Like the man who can sense an approaching rain storm, I'm picking up faint signals of an impending (but temporary!) liberal comeback.

(Incidentally, I just finished Walzer's Spheres of Justice. Highly recommended if you want to learn more about how liberals believe goods should be distributed in society.)

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