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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s Re-election Strategy and the Democratic Left

As some of you may have noticed, I’m doing some writing for Salon this week and next (unlike some of their regulars, I don’t take summer vacations), and quickly found myself in a somewhat testy but illuminating exchange with the ever-estimable Glenn Greenwald. My initial piece, a meditation on the divide between elite and rank-and-file progressive attitudes towards the president, and how that played into Obama’s apparent re-election strategy, clearly set Glenn’s teeth on edge. His response made some categorical claims about the empirical evidence of a rank-and-file progressive revolt against Obama, argued that White House indifference to the Left’s disgruntlement with the president is politically dangerous, and in general lamented the tendency of D.C. pundits and Obama apologists to mock progressives and minimize their concerns. He made it pretty clear he included me in that much-despised-by-progressives group.
You can read my response to Greenwald here, and I won’t recapitulate it other than to say I found his empirical arguments for a progressive voter revolt against Obama unpersuasive (and certainly less persuasive than the slam-dunk case he claimed to be so clear that only “willful blindness” could miss it), and his innuendos about my intentions unfair.
If you do not want to wade through all this verbiage, Elias Isquith has a good analysis of the exchange at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen site.
I’d just offer two additional thoughts about the exchange. I objected to Glenn’s suggestion that I was joining the Obama camp and “D.C. pundits” in laughing at progressive critics of the White House for two reasons: (1) it’s not true, and more importantly, (2) progressives need to be able to have discussions of both empirical data and political strategy without impugning each other’s motives. This latter point, as a matter of fact, is one of the foundational principles for this site. Sure, we all have our own opinions and agendas. Yes, it’s human nature to associate someone making a particular argument with others making similar arguments. And often it helpfully simplifies discussions to typecast our “opponents.” But it’s a tendency that we all ought to resist, particularly amongst those who share the same basic values and allegiances, and especially when we are talking directly to each other.
In addition, in the lengthy comment thread to my first Salon piece, a lot of folks strenuously objected to my characterization of progressives outspokenly angry with Obama as “progressive elites” or “liberal elites.” I can certainly understand that objection, insofar as “elite” has a negative connotation and most of the people objecting can’t be described as opinion-leaders beyond their immediate circles. But the whole departure point of my essay was to contrast the exceptionally vociferous and increasingly dominant criticism of Obama among actual progressive opinion-leaders–i.e., “elites”–with the relatively robust levels of support the president continues to enjoy in the actual progressive Democratic voter “base.” Sure, anyone reading progressive blogs with comment threads is aware that there are progressive voters who are very angry with Obama. But empirically speaking, there aren’t enough of them to register strongly in measurements of public opinion. Perhaps it would have been better to posit between “elites” and “rank-and-file” a third group of progressives–say, “activists”–who may through their own political efforts exert an influence beyond their numbers. It’s very difficult, however, to be precise about that, and it doesn’t obviate the point that the “progressive revolt” against Obama has not, so far, spread very far into the electorate.
In any event, this will hardly be the last time this subject is discussed here or elsewhere, and I can only hope such discussions produce more light than heat.

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