Not a knock on HNN, but this piece by David Greenberg
is the most idiotic thing I've read there since I began reading the site three years ago.
The gist of Greenberg's argument is that the defection of liberal Republican John Lindsay to the Democrats in 1971 was a warning sign that the GOP couldn't govern without representing a broad range of ideologies, and that Arlen Specter's recent party switch should be seen as a similar warning sign. So -- let's look at the GOP's record since Lindsay made that switch. In 1972, they won one of the most lopsided Presidential races in history. In 1976, they came within a point and a half of victory despite a deeply unpopular President and a virtual civil war within Republican ranks. In 1980, 1984, and 1988, they dominated the electoral map as few parties in American history had done before. In 1994, they dramatically retook both houses of Congress. Meanwhile, as Greenberg himself notes, Lindsay quickly fizzled out and retired from politics. Contrary to Greenberg's assertions, Republicans have proved that they can govern just fine without Lindsay and his ilk.
Greenberg is so busy being disproved by his own evidence that he misses the real significance of the Specter switch -- which is precisely the opposite of what he suggests. Rather than being a warning sign for Republicans, Specter's move threatens to undermine the fragile coalition that brought Barack Obama to power. The prospect of a prominent left-wing grassroots primary challenge to Specter -- likely from Congressman and two-star Admiral Joe Sestak, though there are other potential candidates -- should terrify Obama because it would pit his various constituencies against one another. Obama succeeded in November because his big tent included grassroots progressives, big labor, and free-thinking independents in addition to the Clintonian centrist Dems. But in a Specter-Sestak battle, Obama would be on the side of the Beltway, while progressives, unions, the netroots, and even some independents would line up against him.
Obama's engineering of the Specter switch is going to go down in history as one of the most idiotic political moves ever made by a sitting President -- and it's because Obama has surrounded himself with hacks like Greenberg who think the only people who matter are the enemies you can get to cross over to your side, however opportunistic their motives. Meanwhile, Obama is poised to lose a number of his friends over this whole situation, and he doesn't seem to understand the electoral consequences of that loss. Perhaps a better comparison than the Lindsay switch would be Franklin Roosevelt's handling of Huey Long, which almost resulted in Roosevelt's electoral loss in a three-way race.
Labels: Jeremy Young
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on 5/08/2009 11:10 PM:
Beginning to end, utter nonsense, Jeremy. Alpha) Greenberg was a Clintonista, so no clew there to what Obama thinks. Omega) FDR's victory in 1936 was so overwhelming that it's likely he would have won no matter what Huey Long would have done had he lived.
Jeremy Young on 5/08/2009 11:16 PM:
Alpha) Exactly my point. Obama has surrounded himself almost entirely with Clintonistas. They fill the ranks of his cabinet, his personal advisors, even his informal consultants. So Clintonistas ARE what Obama thinks now -- something we have to accept as a fait accompli, I think. Omega) I don't think we can postulate what exactly would have happened had Long lived, given the absence of accurate polling (and the prevalence of wildly inaccurage polling). I will say that I think FDR would have had a lot more trouble with Long on the campaign trail attacking him from the left than he did when Lemke played that role.
But perhaps you'd like to opine on how John Lindsay's party-switching was a bad omen for Republican political dominance? Because I really can't see how Greenberg, or anyone else, can make that argument with a straight face given the record of Republican ascendancy following that moment.
Ralph Luker on 5/09/2009 12:54 AM:
If you look at the White House inner circle, it's all Obama. There's no doubt in Hillary's and Bill's minds about who is and who is not the President. I can't speak for Greenberg, but clearly the Republican Party north of Virginia and east of Indiana has collapsed. By contrast, for example, the Democratic Party continues to function throughout the South. Without a wing that could include a John Lindsay, there cannot be a vital Republican Party in the northeast.
Jeremy Young on 5/09/2009 1:24 AM:
The WH inner circle includes Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, Greg Craig -- all longtime Clinton partisans. Also if you want to go with cabinet posts, you've got Eric Holder, Leon Panetta, Tom Vilsack, Peter Orszag, Tim Geithner, and -- if you want to stretch a bit -- Janet Napolitano. I doubt there would have been more Bill Clinton insiders in a Hillary Clinton cabinet.
As for needing Lindsay types in order to win in the Northeast, that's of course where we disagree. Where Greenberg errs is that he sees mushy moderates like Lindsay and Specter who can't decide what they're for as impartial tribunes of the people, instead of recognizing them for the spineless opportunists they are. When American voters elect a Specter or a Michael Steele, which they do occasionally, it's a Pyrrhic victory for the GOP every time. It dilutes the brand and makes voters think Republicans are all craven opportunists like Specter, which hurts the party up and down the ticket. The party would do a lot better to run principled iconoclasts like Rick Santorum and Pat Toomey who stand for something, even if they lose more often. Eventually, they'll come again to be seen as the party of principle, and then they'll rake in the votes again just as they did under Reagan.
I'd make the same comments about the Dems, by the way. I think we learned that lesson way back in 2003 from Howard Dean, though Obama seems to have unlearned it in a hurry.
AndrewMc on 5/09/2009 7:26 AM:
Gotta disagree Jeremy--at least with the overall point. I think Specter's switch is insignificant for the most part, but it is indicative of a Republican Party that is becoming more narrow in it's viewpoint. And narrowly-focused parties don't win elections.
Jeremy Young on 5/09/2009 12:07 PM:
Andrew, I hear this all the time, but where's the evidence? "Extremist" candidates such as Ronald Reagan and FDR win elections all the time. In other countries, voters PREFER the extremes -- witness the increase in support for the Lib Dems in Britain as Labour has drifted toward the center, of Likud in Israel as Kadima has become more centrist, etc. I think Howard Dean disproved this myth once and for all: candidates who stand for something may lose votes from mushy moderates, but they gain even more votes from people who respect their integrity.
Bob In Pacifica on 5/09/2009 3:04 PM:
Not sure of how much Obama engineered this shift so much as he woke up with Specter in his lap. I'd like to see the evidence of that.
I think that Specter did what he did to preserve his career. He was about to get knocked out by someone thug in the primary. When he jumped into the Dems' lap he essentially set the limits for how liberal that senate seat could go.
In fact, I don't know what the Dems gain from this other than one more during headcounts. He still is going to vote against progressive interests. He evens says he'll back Coleman over Franken in the case of any Senate actions. What the hell?
Besides, he an accessary after the fact in the murder of JFK.
Jeremy Young on 5/09/2009 3:15 PM:
Bob, that's another thing. I'm tired of hearing people say "Obama couldn't do anything about this, it just happened to him." Obama has stratospheric approval ratings and huge majorities in both houses of Congress. He can do just about anything he wants! The problem has been that he's not willing to spend his political capital, that he's too cautions. For instance, he refused to campaign for Jim Martin in SC because a possible loss there would have cost him prestige. He's unwilling to campaign for his friend Alexi Giannoulias in IL-Sen against Roland Burris for similar reasons. Now we find out where he's willing to spend his political capital: campaigning for Republicrat Arlen Specter against a left-wing primary challenge. That's not Obama "waking up with Specter in his lap," that's Obama making a choice about where his loyalties lie.
Ahistoricality on 5/09/2009 3:16 PM:
Seems to me that this chart and this discussion run more in the direction that Greenberg is pointing.
Also, it isn't entirely fair to point the finger at HNN, when they're just repeating what was published at Slate, and I'm sorry, but there's been stuff far more boneheaded than this in those roundup files
Jeremy Young on 5/09/2009 3:36 PM:
I agree with you on HNN -- which is why I started off the post with "Not a knock on HNN." And I do know what Greenberg is trying to say -- it's just that I view the "Great Sorting-Out" as a wholly beneficial activity, and I think his evidence proves my view rather than his.
Bob In Pacifica on 5/09/2009 7:29 PM:
Jeremy, I think that Obama has reason to be cautious. He may be as right of center as a lot of progressives claim (I don't know) but I think that there are a lot of saboteurs on his ship of state who would just love to see him portrayed as another Jimmy Carter weak, do-little failure of a President. In the first few months I've seen a lot of suspicious behavior that looks like pushback from the military "branch" of our government. His popularity doesn't necessarily translate into getting the CIA/military to do what he wants. NYC flyover, don't ask don't tell, CIA torture, NSA spying.
Those graphs of the three branches of our government haven't applied since 1963, in my opinion. All the more reason to suspect that Specter may not only be preserving his own career but has been sent across parties to be a weight around Obama's neck.
Just my speculation.
Jeremy Young on 5/09/2009 7:43 PM:
Bob, I can't be as conspiratorial as you are, but I do think he needs to fight the military-industrial complex. Instead of doing so, he's welcomed them into his cabinet! James Jones, Shinseki (of whom I approve) -- Obama's made it clear where he stands. If he wanted to disband the CIA, as I do, he'd do so.
I don't argue that Obama is right of center. I think he's a leftist who values unity and harmony over prnciples. I knew this when I voted for him, twice. He was still the best of all available options. But it doesn't stop me from raging against him when he does things like rule out criminal charges for Bush officials who ordered torture. I swear I'm angrier at Obama right now than I ever was at Bush. You expect your enemies to look the other way when evil is committed, but you shouldn't have to put up with such behavior from your friends.
Ralph Luker on 5/09/2009 9:53 PM:
"I swear I'm angrier at Obama right now than I ever was at Bush." Save those words for the historical record.
on 5/11/2009 9:35 PM:
Excellent commentary, Mr. Young and Bob In Pacifica.
I think that both of you are right!
on 6/03/2009 1:25 PM:
You write: "Perhaps a better comparison than the Lindsay switch would be Franklin Roosevelt's handling of Huey Long, which almost resulted in Roosevelt's electoral loss in a three-way race."
Uh, would you be refering to FDR's electoral landslide (523/8) and 61/37/2 popular vote of the three-way 1936 election? Yeah, that's a great example of an "almost" loss...