Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future:
1. The left was right. The president is in trouble because his historic reforms were too timid, not too bold. The recovery plan wasn’t big enough. The banks were rescued, but not reformed and no heads rolled. These two alone have been lethal to the economy, to working people, and not surprisingly to the president’s popularity and Democratic prospects.
2. The left was wrong—but not because it was too independent, but because it was too cooperative. Instead of building an independent populist movement with a moral voice driving opinion outside the Beltway, much energy and resources were devoted to the legislative sausage-making process, largely in support of the president’s agenda. This White House would have been far better served with an independent movement, such as those FDR and LBJ suffered and benefited from. One result is that the ersatz Tea Party formations captured the voice of populist outrage.
3. The left isn’t the problem; the corporate wing of the party is. The left hasn’t gotten in the president’s way, for better or worse. It’s the corporate right of the party—the Blue Dogs and New Democrats—that have stood in the way. They joined with Republicans to weaken the recovery plan. Sen. Max Baucus did the dance with so-called moderate Republicans like Charles “Death Panel” Grassley that ate up the first year in useless negotiations. Blue Dogs largely sabotaged energy legislation. New Democrats weakened already inadequate financial reforms. And the deficit hawks now sabotage needed jobs programs in an economy in big trouble. The problem with the left is that it has been too weak, not too strong.
4. The left hasn’t been a rebel; it’s been too good a soldier. Amazing that the White House would be upset at carping from the Beltway left which has embarrassed itself by its willingness to absorb insult and salute. Women rallied to support a health care bill that weakened choice. Progressives supported the bill despite the president’s unwillingness to fight for a public option, the taxes on good (read union) health care plans, and the grotesque deal with drug companies to sustain the ban on Medicare getting bulk price discounts. Environmentalists went so far as to embrace off-shore drilling in the failed effort to get the energy bill. Black leaders like Al Sharpton argued against any targeted economic programs, even as the African-American community was suffering depression levels of misery in the economic collapse. The antiwar movement gave the president a pass on Afghanistan. Gay people have been remarkably patient at delay in repealing the indefensible don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. Progressives pushed financial reform hard, even after the Treasury Department helped defeat amendments to break up the big banks and more.
5. The White House has been hurt less because the left is critical, but because the White House isn’t listening. The left correctly understood the White House faced a pitched battle over the direction of the country, not a post-racial, pragmatic, bipartisan era of good feelings. The president’s search for bipartisan cooperation compromised his greatest asset — the bully pulpit. From day one, he should have been teaching Americans, over and over, how failed conservative ideas and policies had driven us over the cliff, just as FDR and Ronald Reagan had done from opposite ends of the political spectrum. The failure to do that has allowed conservatives to revive without changing a whit. Now, three months from the election, the president says he’s ready to draw the contrast and start pushing, far too late.
6. Reality counts. Gibbs accuses the professional left of being congenitally dissatisfied. I should hope so. But the White House problem isn’t temperament, it is reality.