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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

“Standing” or “Moving:” Some Points of Clarification

An awful lot of the post-election discussion so far has involved insistent demands that President Obama and congressional Democrats “move” in this or that direction–you know, towards “the center,” or away from Wall Street, or towards the GOP, or into violent battle with the GOP. And that’s understandable; given the 2010 results, some sort of dramatic action seems appropriate.
But as E.J. Dionne points out in a column today, all this moving wasn’t exactly what Republicans did after they got beat in 2008:

In 2008, the largest number of voters in American history gave the Democrats their largest share of the presidential vote in 44 years and big majorities in the House and Senate.
How did Republicans react? They held their ideological ground, refused to give an inch to the new president and insisted that persistent opposition would eventually yield them victory. On Nov. 2, it did.
Yet now that Democrats have suffered a setback – in an election, it should be said, involving many fewer voters than the big battle two years ago – they are being counseled to do the opposite of what the Republicans did, especially by Republicans.
Democrats who stand up to say they were right to reform health care and stimulate a staggering economy are told they “don’t get it” and are “in denial”….
Funny that when progressives win, they are told to moderate their hopes, but when conservatives win, progressives are told to retreat.

But E.J.’s case for “standing” instead of “moving” also gets into the very important issue of what happens next, and where Democrats need to be when Republicans start making their own extremist agenda abundantly clear, particularly in the effort to repeal health reform:

The most politically potent attack on the health-care effort was not on the plan itself. It was the argument that Democrats should have spent less time on this bill and more on job creation. Every moment the Republicans devote to destroying this year’s reform opens them up to exactly the same criticism.
Moreover, reopening the health-care debate will allow the law’s supporters to defend its particulars. What, exactly, do the Republicans want to repeal? Tax breaks helping businesses cover their employees? Individual tax credits? (Yes, repealing the health bill would be a big tax increase.) Protections for people with pre-existing conditions or for adult children under age 26

So which posture better positions Democrats to take advantage of this Republican hubris? “Moving to the center” and begging for Republican cooperation in deconstructing the accomplishments of the last two years? Maybe “moving to the left” and joining Republicans in trying to repeal features of health reform (e.g., deals with provider groups or the individual mandate) that many progressives don’t like? Or standing still and letting the opposition fall into the pit it has dug with its ideological obsessions?
The desire to “move” in some direction or other after a political setback is strong and natural But on occasion standing your ground is the best approach. That is particularly true if those of us who have emphasized the structural aspects of the midterm election results are right. If the economy improves by 2012, and the turnout patterns change in a pro-Democratic direction, as they almost certainly will, then it’s the ground that will move, whether or not Democrats move on their own.

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