Barack Dukakis


Peter Suderman, one of Sullivan’s fill-ins during his vaycay, writes the following about Obama’s sliding popularity among liberals and progressives:

Meanwhile, I wonder: What did progressives expect?

That Obama could simply roll into Washington and ignore the myriad forces arrayed against a liberal agenda? That conservatives, Republicans, moderate Democrats, and interested industry groups would simply go away or shut up? That Obama, through force of will and liberal coolness, could use his awesome rhetorical ju-jujitsu skills to flip the opposition and defeat nutty right-wingers and conservative politicians forever?

Unless you’re a character in an Aaron Sorkin show, that’s just not how national politics work. And it’s particularly unrealistic given that Obama didn’t run as a progressive cage-fighter, but as a calm, pragmatic leader — with progressive sympathies, yes, but nothing like the ferocity of the netroots.

That may be the dumbest thing I’ve read all week.

If liberals expected Obama could just roll into Washington and make their dreams come true through sheer coolness and rhetoric, we would have had no expectation that he would fight for progressive policy (since there would be no need), and therefore we wouldn’t be angry with him for failing to do so.  We’d just be angry with the GOP and Max Baucus.  Also, if we expected Obama to just breeze through, what’s the relevance of the fact that he didn’t run as a “progressive cage-fighter”?

No, we knew the GOP would go to the mattresses against everything he or any other Democrat proposed, and we knew he and they would have to have some backbone to get things done.  Nonetheless, they do have the tools to get things done if they have the backbone to put them to good use; we gave them those tools (big majorities in both houses).

Our problem with Obama (and Reid, etc.) is that they have not shown any backbone.  They have not fought, like everyone knew they would have to.  They have simply walked away when resistance developed.

Obama did it on Guantanamo, Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell, rule of law issues, executive authority issues, open government issues, and he’s still wavering on Iraq.  So far, he’s failed to put up a meaningful fight for health care reform.  He and Reid have let Max Baucus stall the whole thing in hopes of 2 or 3 GOP votes, long past the point that it became obvious to absolutely everyone they would never, ever get them.

We don’t expect Obama to be a “progressive cage-fighter.”  But when the other party — uniformly, from town hall nutters to conservative media to the RNC to their sitting members and leadership of the House and Senate — accuses you of wanting to euthanize America’s aged and ill, then yes, by god, we expect to see you get upset about that and hit back.

When an entire political party accuses you of something as horrendous as secretly planning to pull the plug on everybody’s grandmas — makes it their actual, official position that that’s what you’re planning — you should be outraged, and you should show it.

If you don’t, you look guilty or weak.  Or both.  And nobody respects you.  And you’re done.  Ask Michael Dukakis.

We didn’t vote for a cage-fighter.  We specifically voted for Obama over a cage-fighter in the primaries.  But there’s a lot of ground between being a cage-fighter and being unwilling to fight at all, even when accused of planning a Nazi eugenics program.


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2 Responses to “Barack Dukakis”

  1. Sandi Says:

    I wonder how we/they could possibly have underestimated the other side. I mean, living through the last, well, almost my entire life, anyway, we know what those people are capable of. And whatever else we may think about them, colorful language and all, they are motivated and will stop at nothing. Did they think Obama would get a pass because he’s not white? It just seems like he’s too smart — having overcome a lot to win the election to begin with — to have overlooked the possibility of what’s happened. But then, on the other hand, maybe the election was luck disguised as cunning. And now we’re seeing the truth. Time will tell. For now, I think I’d rather believe the Michael Moore theory, no matter how implausible it seems at the moment.

  2. urbino Says:

    I don’t deny the possibility of the rope-a-dope strategy. I just don’t see any evidence to believe it, and it seems an extremely and unnecessarily dangerous strategy to take.

    When you haven’t proven you can take the fight to the other guy and win, going rope-a-dope just risks drying up your support. And it’s a strategy you use when the other guy is stronger than you. If you’re stronger, you just go whip the other guy; make him take the pounding. Ali didn’t start out using the rope-a-dope. He absolutely whipped a whole bunch of people. Late in his career, when he had to fight the much stronger George Foreman, he went to the rope-a-dope.

    ISTM, coming off the election, Obama was the young Ali, not the old. The GOP was weak. He was strong, floating and stinging. He was overwhelmingly popular. Why go to the weaker man’s strategy when you’re not the weaker man?

    People say Obama’s too smart to have miscalculated this badly, so it must be the rope-a-dope. But isn’t he too smart to have picked a strategy as inappropriate to his circumstances as the rope-a-dope?

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