Friday, February 1, 2013

The absence of coherent Obama criticism

I spend way too much time reading politics on the internet, but it certainly has broadened my thinking. I especially like the comments since there are a wider range of ideas, some wonderfully unfiltered. There are trolls too, but I occasional learn something from them.

One commenter was complaining that there are no Dems criticizing Obama from the right. That's a good point. Where are the Dems who are urging Obama to be more conservative, particularly more fiscally conservative?

I tried to remember any, and I couldn't. So I called my friend Google, who provided only one on-topic link to Dems criticizing Obama, though it's possible that both Google and I overlooked some. Here is the criticism, dating from April 2011:
The push-back has come in recent days from Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) ... and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)... Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told constituents during the Easter recess that he would not vote to lift the debt limit without a "real and meaningful commitment to debt reduction."
Perhaps the deal of August 2011 blunted most of the criticism. It's also likely there are fewer moderate and conservative Democrats to apply the pressure. Kent Conrad chose not to run for reelection in 2012, but Joe Manchin and Mark Pryor are still in the Senate. Maybe the Dems have circled the wagons. That would make sense, especially in an election year, if you can get your sprawling party to do it.

Well, something is lost when there isn't criticism from the center. One trollish commenter pointed out that Bill Clinton "should have been criticizing Obama as an irresponsible big spender." You know, I find this believable, especially if it is softened somewhat. I can imagine Clinton thinking that we need to trim some of the federal safety net programs, encouraging people to be more independent, and states to experiment with ways to save money on Medicaid and similar programs. Obama has done the opposite, pushing food stamp and Medicaid sign-ups. (Bush had a program to encourage food stamp sign-ups too.)

So why isn't there more criticism of Obama from the center, or from the right side of the Democratic party? I don't know, but maybe the reasonable criticism was and is drowned out by the over-the-top criticism from outside the party. For example, Gingrich called Obama "the food stamp president," which has unpalatable racial tinges. Others who call Obama "a muslim, ...liar, a socialist, an idiot, a communist, the anti-christ,... evil (list courtesy Google auto-completion) do more damage to themselves and the GOP than to Obama.

Even Romney, who tried to be non-crazy in his charges, couldn't make criticism stick. I think there's a lesson here. You have to be credible in your criticism and not overreach, or you bring doubt onto your whole message. You can't say that Obama has ruined the economy, or it's all his fault the recovery is so weak, without a strong argument to support it. The majority just didn't believe it, and the GOP looked partisan, foolish, and dishonest.

Come on, let's have better quality in Obama criticism. We need it.



Anastasios said...

I suspect that the issue is two-fold. First, Obama is in a very, very strong position within the Democratic Party, not just from being President (which is nothing to be sneezed at), but because he really does sit pretty solidly right at the center of the party spectrum. Because he owns the Democratic center, it is very difficult for anyone within the party to pick a major fight without looking like an extremist. I doubt that even Clinton could pull it off - it just ain't 1994, and that kind of rhetoric just doen't work.

The reason it doesn't work is the second factor. The rhetoric and strife coming from outside has become so bitter that it is just very hard for a Democrat to touch it without poisoning themselves. Part of that is reactively political, but part is cultural as well - nowadays many, probably most, Democrats just stop listening when they hear an accent like Clinton's. Now, I don't think that means policies somewhat to the right of Obama are not possible at the top of the party, meaning true Presidential level pols. Arguably Andrew Cuomo might represent such. But it would be very, very difficult to embrace a public rhetoric to the right of Obama without doing more damage than good.

Truth > Spin said...

Anastasios - with what evidence or reasoning do you you claim that Obama "really does sit pretty solidly right at the center of the party spectrum"? And do you mean along the spectrum of other elected Democrats in Washington or do you mean among all Democrats, elected in federal, state and local office and the rank and file party members, included?

This is a genuine question and isn't asked to pick a fight.

Anastasios said...

Truth, I mean the Democratic Party as a whole. Now, I know that is a large and somewhat amorphous group, and the evidence is sometimes ambivalent and hazy. Still, I do think the large preponderance of the evidence, hazy or not, leads to the conclusion of Obama's strength and central position. It would take an entire page of posts to go into it all, but I think one clear example is the fate of Artur Davis in his primary bid for the Georgia gubernatorial bid in 2010. Davis felt there was room and license to sharply criticize Obama from the right, due to the conservative nature of Georgia and the need to seek position for a general electorate even more conservative than Georgia Dems. He counted on his southern roots, his record of service, and, frankly, the color of his skin to protect him from backlash. But the Democratic electorate rejected him across the board, leading to the end of his career in the party. Now, I am sure there were complicated local factors, but there always are. Davis is, it is said, very intelligent and obviously thought logic and evidence made an attack from the right a viable strategy. That he was so profoundly wrong in Georgia in 2010, when Obama's fortunes were plunging, strongly bespeaks Obama's strength in the party, and is strong evidence for his command of the broad Democratic center.

Anastasios said...

I will point out that Davis was different from somebody like Manchin or Lincoln. Everybody expects Red State Dems to bow to the right in general elections and make the occasional grandstanding move in DC. They are playing to the home crowd and by and large no one takes it very seriously as long as they don't spit in the President's face on the really important stuff. On the other hand what Davis was trying to do was about power in the party, and attempt to actually challenge the President's definition of fundamental party goals and philosophies. That is something else again.

Anonymous said...

Not enough criticism of Obama from the right of the Dem party? Is there not enough credit to Obama from the left of the GOP?

One could argue there's no left left in the GOP and no right left in the Dem party.

If there's going to be either criticism or credit doled out, whoever does it should do so on the merits not on the ideological point on the media-truth spectrum everyone seems to use. The notion that fiscal responsibility is conservative and spending is liberal is just inane. Conservatives spend on their priorities and so do liberals. Liberals hate waste and fraud and so do conservatives. Neither side accepts any waste and fraud on their other guy's priorities nearly as much as they tolerate it in advance of their own.

Valid criticisms of Obama include when he gives in to weak positions for political expediency. He hasn't done that lately and I don't expect much of it in his second term. Hence, Dems both left and right of his default stance have much less to complain about.

ModeratePoli said...

@Anastasios, your perception that Obama is in the middle of the party is indeed hard to demonstrate, but you've done a fair job. For sometimes lazy readers like me, can you tell us what were Davis's criticisms of Obama?

@Anon, as before, a request that you pick a name. Also, I stand by my statement that the GOP are more interested in fiscal restraint than the Dems. How often do you hear nationally known Dems asking for a tighter federal budget? Right now they're saying they need more revenue.

As I said in my post, I think it's hard to give Obama constructive criticism when the atmosphere is so poisonous. But it's a shame.

Anastasios said...

Davis strongly criticized the ACA as intrusive, expensive, and government overreach. He also criticized Obama as being too far to the left on economic matters, instead calling for a kind of Clintonian rhetoric on budgets, business, and welfare. It was interesting that none of the actual old Clintonians in Georgia, and there are many as that state was a DLC stronghold, came to Davis' defense, instead rallying to a challenger who was, on the surface, much more liberal and also white in a state where blacks like Davis are a very large hare of the Democratic electorate. In the end Davis lost whites by a large margin and blacks by an even larger one.

Which brings up the issue of the Clintons. I think one other piece of evidence for Obama owning the Dem center is the fact of how little daylight there is between him and his would-be successors. I said that Cuomo is arguably to Obama's right, but that is very arguable (most people asking it overestimate both how far right Cuomo is and how far left Obama is) and Bill or no Hillary Clinton has a history of being slightly to the left of Obama on several issues. O'Malley isn't interested in picking fights, either. In part that is all just good form, but in part I suspect that all of them, being very experienced and adept pols, have a clear sense of where the center of gravity in Dem ideology and policy preferences lies, and it does not appear to be far from Obama in any of their estimation. I am sure that Manchin feels something different about the center of gravity among West Virginia Dems, but there is a reason that the national party does not seem to be looking to West Virginia or Arkansas for its national leadership these days.

ModeratePoli said...

@Anastasios, You got the wrong state for Artur Davis. It was Alabama. However, the rest of your narrative is at least somewhat confirmed by Wikipedia.

I'm a supporter of what DLC was trying to do, but I also know that the Clintons didn't make a lot of friends among the large liberal wing in the Dems. Knowing that, it was no surprise that so many Dems jumped to Obama in the primaries. It was payback to the Clintons. I supported Obama, but for a different reason, but it wasn't a strong preference.

I think the Dems know that they can't be too far to the left and still win the presidency, so any nominee has to try to be a moderate. (This kind of mirrors what Buckley used to say--nominate the most conservative person who can win.) But Obama hasn't tamped down the left wing like the Clintons did. I don't know what will happen in '16, but the liberal wing definitely appears stronger than it had been, maybe strong enough to blow the next presidential election on someone too liberal. What do you think?

Dangerous said...

OK, MP. You win. This is my new screen name.

Anastasios said...


I doubt the liberal wing can blow up the presidential nomination fight. They are, I agree, stronger than they once were, but not that strong. Any increased left-wing influence is, I think, more likely to be in Congress, in the Executive bureaucracy, and in party organizations. So no blowing up the nomination or the election, but possibly more liberal rhetoric if the political environment allows it and also likely more liberal influence over formation and details of policy.

Where we are more apt to see a large increase in liberals is in the ranks of Democratic leaning analysts, pundits, bloggers, and the like. This is actually a generational change as much as a political or ideological shift. As Clinton and Carter era pundits and analysts move along, the Gen-X'ers and Millenials that are replacing them lean more left.

ModeratePoli said...

@Anastasios, are you calling me ancient? I'm two years older than Obama, for God's sake. :-/

It's an interesting idea that there's a generational difference. However, I've also seen a more liberal Democratic party before Clinton too, so it may be a pendulum swing involved too. I'll keep what you say in mind for the next decade as I continue to watch the political scene (until dementia sets in).

ModeratePoli said...

@Dangerous--thank you. Good name!

Anastasios said...

Not ancient, MP, but certainly a Boomer. There do appear to be differences among early Boomers, more liberal, and later Boomers, more conservative. Gen X would appear to be slightly more liberal than late Boomers, and the Millenials so far lean significantly more left. Some people believe in that kind of analysis, others don't, but it does appear to be roughly borne out in voting patterns.