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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

“Democrats in Disarray!”

Note: this item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on March 26, 2009
There’s no political narrative more beloved in large swaths of media-land than that of “Democrats in Disarray!” Conservatives have obvious motives for promoting tales of indiscipline and factionalism in the Donkey Party. Certain Democrats from Left to Center, with varying degrees of sincerity, also have their own reasons for drawing bright and dreadful fault lines or launching “battles for the soul of the party.” And many MSM gabbers probably talk about the subject out of sheer laziness as a hardy perennial, much as they can always fill a slow news day by pointing to the latest batch of rhetorical craziness from right-wing talk show hosts or very junior GOP House members.
As Congress moves towards action on a new federal budget, however, reports of Democratic factionalism should be examined carefully and taken with more than a grain of salt.
Consider a story today from US News’ Political Bulletin, headlined: “Democrats Split Over Obama Budget.” If you actually read it, evaluations of the extent to which House and Senate Democratic budget committee chairs differ with Obama are all over the place. And if you actually think about it, the main difference so far other than obscure variations in out-year deficit reduction numbers is that the other shoe is dropping on the subject of carbon cap-and-trade legislation, which, for reasons that have little or nothing to do with Democratic ideology or Barack Obama, probably would not survive a Byrd Rule challenge that could knock it out of a budget reconciliation bill. Since cap-and-trade auction fees are the financing mechanism in the Obama budget for his Make-Work-Pay tax cut (created for the next two years by the stimulus legislation), that, too, is being left out of the Democratic budget drafts for the time being.
These are important omissions, but are not irretrievable this year or (more likely) next, and don’t represent some sort of Democratic “circular firing squad” or a fullscale congressional Democratic revolt against the administration.
Indeed, after reading the lurid US News headline, check out the headline in this AP assessment of the exact same facts: “Unified Democrats Mirror Obama Budget Priorities.”
The other “Democrats in Disarray” story getting circulation this week involves the announcement by a group of “centrist” Democratic senators led by Evan Bayh that they are creating a 14-member caucus, followed by announcement of an effort by several progressive groups, including MoveOn.org and Americans United for Change, to run ads encouraging said “centrists” to support Obama’s budget and policy priorities (a development that Politico reported under the headline: “Democrats versus Democrats.”).
So far, despite widespread accusations of incipient betrayal, the Bayh group hasn’t issued any demands or offered to broker any deals with Republicans, but the reaction led three of its members to pen a Washington Post op-ed disclaiming treasonous intentions. And the supposed counterweight, the pro-Obama ads, fall pretty fall short of violent chain-yanking or purge-threatening, and could in fact help make it easier for Dems in conservative states to support Obama’s agenda. “There’s zero anger coming from our side,” said Americans United spokesman Jeremy Funk to Politico.
Democratic factionalism may ultimately become a big problem for the Obama administration, but it ain’t happened yet. We all need to understand that such “stories” invariably fall on very fertile soil in Washington, and require little nourishment in the way of objective reality.

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