Afghanistan & Health Care Making Democratic Disharmony Structural


charlie cook.jpgCharlie Cook, one of the best political handicappers in the country, sees the Democratic camp diverging in three directions — loyal Obamites, Liberal purists, and skeptics.
Charlie doesn’t even get into the questions of national security policy and the Vietnam-like stumble into something bigger in Afghanistan, but his template fits the foreign policy world pretty well too.
I am told that tonight on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer:, the reputationally hawkish Congresswoman and national intelligence expert Jane Harman talks about the growing unease among Congresssional democrats about what is happening in Afghanistan. Her bottom line approximately:

No more US troops to Afghanistan unless they clean up the corruption there.

Well, that means for the moment the White House can’t count Harman it its corner on increasing US troop deployments.
harman 2009.jpgAs Harman writes in a recent oped on Afghanistan, she sees the nation as somewhat as a cesspool of corruption in which American national security resources are pouring into a black hole with no hope — unless corruption is addressed — of achieving America’s national objectives or achieving a stable and healthy Afghanistan.
In response to the Democratic Party’s tripartite disarray, the Republicans have not marshalled anything coherent in response.
The Republicans are divided into a bunch of camps as well — probably far more than three — and the sensible pragmatists with whom I feel most comfortable are barely in the party any longer.
Charlie Cook writes in his “Cook Report” in National Journal:

In assessing the severity of their current problems, Democrats have split into three distinct camps.
The first, the Loyal Obamaites, is made up of those most committed to President Obama, whether or not they’re on his payroll. They stress that it is a long time until November 2010 and that their party’s problems are primarily driven by the economy.
In their view, if the economy turns around over the next year, the president’s fortunes and those of his party will improve. If the economy fails to improve, Democrats are pretty much screwed no matter what they do, the Loyalists continue. They maintain that tackling health care reform would be tough in any year, that candidate Obama promised to take on this challenge, and that he cannot back down. Some Democrats in this camp sound as if they would not mind if a dozen or so “Blue Dogs” lost next year, since on tough votes these moderate-to-conservative Democrats are not with the president and their party’s House leadership anyway.
The second Democratic camp, the Purists, is chiefly composed of liberal activists and bloggers who see the current problems of the president and the party as the result of their being insufficiently liberal and of not sticking with their convictions. Purists see compromise as weakness or appeasement. And on health care they view anything short of a full-blown public option as a rejection of core Democratic principles. Oddly, universal coverage is not where they draw their line in the sand.
(Without weighing in on the validity of the liberal Purists’ arguments, I would like the record to show that when conservatives made a similar argument — that Republicans lost the 2006 and 2008 elections because they had veered away from conservative principles — liberals laughed hysterically.)
Finally, there are the Skeptics, those Democrats who have concluded that this is not the cruise they signed up for. They worry that the problems facing Obama and their party’s congressional leadership stem from something deeper than just the recession and that major strategic mistakes have been made. They can’t see how this trajectory doesn’t take their party to a bad place by November 2010. The Skeptics think that the rapid and unprecedented expansion of government — under both Presidents Bush and Obama — since last year’s collapse of Lehman Brothers has gone too far and that costly health care proposals and cap-and-trade legislation are the straws breaking the camel’s back.
My own hunch is that the Skeptics are right that the Democrats’ problems are bigger than the recession: Purple America is reacting to the growth of government with emotions ranging from dubiousness to outright hostility. So, the rebound for which almost everyone is praying won’t necessarily fix the Democrats’ problems.

Americans may have replaced a housing bubble with an Obama bubble — but hopefully the President’s team can keep some air in it for some time. Bubbles can be good and bad. The good part is when you have time, resources and mystique to rework how a nation moves and feels.
The bad part about bubbles, particularly political bubbles, is that gravity hurts when all the air is gone.
— Steve Clemons


30 comments on “Afghanistan & Health Care Making Democratic Disharmony Structural

  1. samg says:

    Steve, Charlie Cook may be a favorite of yours, but he’s no favorite of mine. His comparison of the Dem “purists” with the right-wing Republicans is invalid. He says the latter claimed the GOP lost in 2006 and 2008 because it wasn’t conservative enough. We Dem “purists” are not making the same argument. We’re not talking about past elections. We’re pointing out instead that as recently as July 18, in his weekly radio address (see, Obama labelled a public option a necessity for any bill he’d sign. Its purpose, he said, is “to keep the insurance companies honest.” Since then, he and his followers have backed away from that. We’re just trying to keep Obama and his cronies as honest as he wants to keep the insurance companies.
    As a student of politics and a man of no political principles, Charlie Cook wouldn’t understand that. Perhaps, too, Charlie, like a lot of Americans, has forgotten that all the government intervention in the economy that he says the people are so against, which began with the Bush administration, was aimed at — and is so far successful at — averting a 1930s style Depression. Perhaps he should remind his countrymen of this along with his criticism of the Dems. After all, they’ve only managed to save the country from a second Republican depression.


  2. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    POA..I was surprised by the same thing in Nebraska when I was there last year visiting my daughter…guess that’s how Chuck Hagle got elected…


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Actually, Kathleen, this was in Tehachapi. But yes, Bakersfield is this perverse onclave of closed minded asshole rednecks whose ignorance equals that of any state or city in the union. However, I have been suprised at the level of knowledge and liberalism of some of the wealthier farmers. I think its because you do not get stinking rich in the agricultural field if you are a mindless idiot.


  4. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    S.Hab, JohnH, bob.h YESSSSSSSS..POA..I’ve been to Bakersfield…was your outspoken waitress wearing a flag apron and dishing up apple pie? Maybe weilding a rolling pin? Tea Bags???/F******ck! The real Boston Tea Party used real tea because it was a real revolution not some bogus tempest in a tea pot.
    Not to be outdone by Bakersfield, I remember nearly coming to fisticuffs with a nicely dressed, educated looking older CT.Yankee gentleman while waiting at City Hall for my absentee ballot last Nov…there was a line and he started up a conversation..all about Obummer being a socialist and behind the ACORN voter fraud thingee..ooooh and Rev.Wright…things got real testy when he kvetched about Obummer supporting the bailout…I pointed out that the bailout was Busholini’s idea, so he was the real socialist…
    YIKES, saved by the Towb about stepping on a nerve….it’s amazing how fast a guy’s face can go red…so he wouldn’t go into appoplexy, I told him I was voting for calmed him right down..he said he liked Nader too but probably would be voting R.
    Carroll…42% of voters may be registered as “indepedent”, non-affiliated, technically, but they vote like prodigal partisans..not sufficiently independent to actually vote for an independent candidate, they generally, however reluctantly, vote for D or R. or don’t vote. It drives me crazy when people who like Nader don’t vote for him because some Talking Head says he can’t win….mindsets carved in stone it seems…


  5. ... says:

    beck is born the day before sarah palin.. notice any connections among their supporters? lol..


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I meant MADDOW and Olberman, of course.


  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    But unfortunatly, there seems to be a huge amount of android thinkers out there that thrive by joining such a cult. And the truly scary part is that the cult leaders, Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter, etc are banding together, compiling a huge contingent of raging assholes, who will ALL throng to the polls in 2010 and 2012.
    Along those lines, I see Ron Paul has joined hands with Bachman. Although I respect Paul’s conviction and honesty, for him to embrace the likes of Bachman pretty much kills him in my mind. Too bad honesty and conviction can’t find a sane platform in Washington DC. It seems honesty in Washington always attaches itself to eccentricity and zealotry.
    There is a different electricity in the air than I have ever experienced before, surrounding the people’s engagement. I think it is because our media has ceased its role of informing, and has assumed the role of shaping views and opinions to garner sympathy for political agendas. Any reasonably astute citizen should be able to discern that our “Fourth Estate” has become the modern day “TASS, that old arch enemy of the truth that the Soviet Union used to control public knowledge and opinion. Honestly, I never in my life would have believed that the Fourth Estate would become the blatant purveyor of propaganda that it has become today. The likes of Beck, Hannity, etc are treasonous to their proffession. So too are Hannity and Olberman, with their selective manner of picking and choosing the focus of their “reporting” along partisan lines. Its interesting how Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank don’t even exist on MSNBC. Kinda like whats seems to be occurring here on TWN.


  8. Outraged American says:

    Dan, you just described my parents.


  9. Dan Kervick says:

    Beck is a televised cult leader, and the people who most like and watch Beck appear to worship him with an uncanny level of devotion. He’s Jim Jones or David Koresh with a camera and a studio. His bizarrely emotional and tick-filled manic-depressive personality seems to resonate with a certain segment of depressed and pathetic people, turning them into blubbering boobs one minute and frightening, hair-trigger ranters the next. I have found it necessary to cut myself off entirely from some of these people, because they are are so disturbed and disturbing.


  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Yesterday I went to our local country club restaraunt to get a burger to go. Sitting at the bar waiting for my burger, I noted Fox News on the TV, and asked the waitress, someone I have always got along with, if she had Fox News on all day. She immediately replied, testily, “Well I sure as hell ain’t going to watch CNN”. A local golfer and farmer, wealthy, quipped in, “I prefer MSNBC”. Suprised me, as the guy had a definite “conservative” feel to him. But, the real shocker was when the waitress became quite agitated, pointed at that asshole Glenn Beck on the screen, and rabidly drooled “He’s awesome!!!! Not like our President, who’s a socialist, and communist, and a Muslim!” Now mind you, this was not offered conversationally, she was almost screaming. She further hollered that she attended “all the nearby tea parties”, and that she was “mad as hell” and would help “kick this Muslim out of the White House”.
    To be honest, I’ve never seen such rabid ignorance and anger openly displayed in a public place, not even during the Nam days. Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, have found a huge well of ignorance that has become their chief ally, and they are managing to help the ignorant find the ignorant, and the result is a huge seething mass of activist stupidity, that can be steered and controlled from a few radio talk shows and Fox News. This is a force to be reckoned with, and I strongly doubt that the Democrats have the spine to counter it. These people, to a man, are going to do EXACTLY what the likes of Beck or Hannity tell them to do, and the main message is going to be “VOTE!!!” Meanwhile, Obama, having had dissappointed and betrayed his most ardent supporters, will have guaranteed a low turn-out from the disillusioned and betrayed Democratic constituency. Obama is gonna be a one termer, and he will be the catalyst that puts the GOP back into the business of shitting on the White House rugs and wiping their asses with our Constitution.


  11. JohnH says:

    Nancy Pelosi is the Ban Ki-moon of the House, Harry Reid of the Senate. All preside of their representative bodies without being moved to show the least bit of leadership. What happened to the likes of Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neill, people who knew how to use the rules to lead? In fact, they all know what leadership can do, they happily watched Tom Delay do it. Instead, they prefer to be wobbly–like the President–on everything they claim to stand for.


  12. bob h says:

    Contemplating the way Democrats have failed to carry the ball on healthcare and are now going wobbly on Afghanistan, I am coming to the conclusion they may be as unfit to govern as the Republicans.


  13. JohnH says:

    “The difference is that [the Obama administration) is attempting to deal with a large number of big, complex issues.” The other, countervailing difference is that Obama has HUGE majorities in both houses of Congress. So let’s not cut Obama and the Democraps any slack. Though they face big problems, they have the tools to address them. But they have yet to show that they have the spine to do the people’s business. And the party leaders are totally ignoring the powerful parliamentary tools at their disposal to enforce discipline and forge consensus.
    Democraps are courting disaster, virtually daring the electorate to throw them out because of their ineffectiveness. When nothing meaningful gets done, and they do get thrown out, they will have no one to blame but themselves.


  14. Zathras says:

    The “Obama bubble” theory mirrors what has always appeared to me to be the thinking inside the White House, namely that Barack Obama is President because of what he promised, what he represents, and generally what Americans wanted in their President.
    After campaigning for President for nearly two full years and contemplating his candidacy for longer than that, it is perhaps natural that Obama himself would see things that way. His closest advisers from the campaign might as well. You don’t sustain a campaign schedule or maintain the rigorous message discipline and image control a Presidential campaign requires for that long without a strong belief that your election would mean good things for the country.
    But the truth is that the decisive factor in Obama’s electoral success last year was how unpopular his predecessor was. Indeed, George W. Bush sustained very high disapproval ratings for longer than any President since modern polling began. He was unpopular with regard to nearly every issue; well before the end of his administration, Americans stopped listening to anything he had to say. I thought Obama made a tactical error during the campaign by not hitting harder at the things Americans had come to dislike about their 43rd President, but if that was a mistake it affected only the margin of Obama’s victory.
    It’s more consequential now that Obama is President. Every issue he is struggling with now is being discussed as if it emerged on January 20, 2009. It isn’t just Republicans who are doing this; so is the mainstream media, and so are many Democrats. The still-new administration has made its share of mistakes, but no more than any of its recent predecessors. The difference is that it is attempting to deal with a large number of big, complex issues that the last administration either neglected (health care, the federal deficit), screwed up (Iraq), or both (Afghanistan — and the economy, which is so much more important politically than any other issue it deserves a category all its own). No President would be wise to think he could take on the responsibility for all of this right from the start and expect to hold all of his supporters together.
    It was always inevitable that the glue holding the Democrats together last year — dislike bordering on detestation of George Bush — would lose its stickiness at some point. I wonder, though, whether Obama and his people gave up on it too early. If Bush had done a good job as President, if he’d been personally worthy, if he hadn’t let the country down, Americans wouldn’t be or feel completely swamped as they do now. By avoiding the kind of personal criticism to which Bush has always been hypersensitive, Obama bought himself an amicable transition. This isn’t nothing, especially since Obama took office with the American financial markets and economy on the verge of collapse. The political price he is paying now; his supporters, and many Americans who began by giving him the benefit of the doubt, are judging his administration by its own rhetoric, not in the context of the enormous mess it was handed by one of the least successful and most unpopular Presidents in our history.


  15. S. Hab. says:

    I don’t understand why the Purists are defined by desiring conflict and a desire for ideological purity. Wouldn’t it make better sense to define us as people who desire universal health care and a commitment to pursuing a peaceful foreign policy? Why define party divisions by temperament and not policy?
    Whatever actions the president takes, he has to fight for it — if he doesn’t, it’s not political. We “purists’ don’t want conflict, we want conflict in pursuit of desirable policy goals. We don’t ‘trust’ Obama, we aren’t ‘skeptical’ of him, we aren’t out for ‘revenge’, who cares about ‘battle’ — we want our leader, Bush, Obama, or someone else, to fight for good policies. Is Obama doing that? We’re not ‘his’ voters, and he’ll find out in 2010.
    Why are policy disagreements always personalized?


  16. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Yes, its ironic seeing a member of our elitist and self-serving Congress asking another country to clean up ts corruption, while our President directs his Attorney General to be selective in his dispensation of the law.


  17. MNPundit says:

    Perhaps, Mr. Cook, the liberal purists drew the line at non-universal BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT PURISTS.
    The only thing the blogs/DFHs have been wrong about, the ONLY thing was being able to defeat Joe Lieberman.


  18. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    I think it’s too soon to tell how the Dem party is going to divide, if indeed it is…Teddy’s death will have a huge impact on party reins of power and it’s going to take some time to see how it all shakes out…ever since ’68, there’s the party and the Kennedy wing of the party…who emerges as the true leader will be very interesting now that Teddy isn’t here to throw his weight around.
    In Cook’s terms, I’d say Feingold is a purist and so am I.


  19. JohnH says:

    How about the segment of the Democratic Party who only expect Obama to follow his campaign rhetoric with results? Oh, I know, they must be the “purists.” Well, they’re the ones who slogged in the streets and on the phones, chipped in large amounts of small contributions, and got him elected.
    If Obama doesn’t act consistent with the beliefs he espoused in 2008, a lot of these people will be sitting on their hands in 2010 and 2012 or voting for a third party candidate, which I highly recommend as someone who has done it many times.
    It is time for the Democratic Party to be held accountable for its time worn strategy of appealing to the base during elections and stiffing them afterward. And this time they won’t have Ralph Nader to blame for their going down the tubes!


  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    And by the way, if Cook cannot name specific examples of his “three distinct camps”, how are we to judge the strength of his argument.
    Which “camp” is Reid in?? Kucinich???
    Seems to me that there is a tremendous amount of shifting from one camp to the other, depending on what issue is involved, and whose pocket they’re in.


  21. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Gads, it IS the Twilight Zone.
    You have two key members of the Democratic Party traveling to Israel, (accompanied by a huge contingent of “lesser” Congresspeople), and publically voicing open dissent against Obama’s stance on the settlements, and there is nary a mention of it. What United States “ally” holds more sway with the US’ Middle Eastern policies than Israel? Yet the current dynamic between Obama and Netanyahu, which has exposed a HUGE area of opposition within the Democratic party to Obama’s intended goals and conditions concerning Israel, does not even warrant comment when it is completely apropos and germaine TO mention it.


  22. Bart says:

    Bush and the rogue financial institutions have poisoned the well for Obama. The inherited Great Recession will last through 2010 and will continue on to pollute the 2012 election.


  23. Dan Kervick says:

    The Democratic Party is *always* disorganized and in segments, as Will Rogers noted long ago. What Cook alleges about what is going on now is probably the standard story.
    But I tend to think there is just way too much focus on Obama overall, whether to be supportive, critical or skeptical. The daily, almost hourly, pulse-taking – “How is Obama doing?” – has become a little bit ridiculous.
    I would say that Obama made one key early mistake in judgment that has affected his entire administration adversely. It appears that, largely in response to the atmosphere of epochal crisis last fall during the transition period (“Great Depression II”), Obama made a decision to project centrism and reassurance in staffing his administration with what would appear to established elites as a lot of “safe” choices. As a result, I suspect he now just doesn’t hear enough interesting and conflicting voices advising him on his decisions. I don’t just mean that there aren’t enough lefties. I mean that there aren’t enough bold, creative and innovative thinkers in his administration, people who have a strategic vision that calls for very substantive change. Those voices should at least be part of the discussion, but I am hard-pressed to imagine who in his administration could possibly be providing them. They seem to be a very bright, but very conventional group.
    Based on some of his statements during the transition, Obama seems to have convinced himself that he himself could carry the load of being the progressive voice in a centrist administration, and could surround himself with a bunch of non-terribly-progressive moderates in a “team of rivals”. But a president is a chief executive. He is probably too busy working through the processes of decision-making to be the key “ideas man” in his own administration. It ain’t like being a law professor. As he moves into his second year, I would like to see Obama quietly elevate some real economic progressives into positions of greater prominence, and bring some other creative thinkers aboard to generate more strategically challenging discussions.
    I do think Obama sincerely expected to preside over a more interesting and innovative administration, but the economic meltdown made him scale back some of his plans and go for a “return to normalcy”.
    What’s a little odd about Cook’s analysis is that he seems to think all Democrats think about – no matter to which of his three categories they belong – is elections, and what various decisions “mean for 2010” or “mean for “2012”. This is the natural outlook of a political professional like Cook. Of course, Democrats do think about electoral politics. But I would suggest that a lot of Democrats spend a lot more time thinking about what kinds of *policies* the administration is bringing us, and leave off worrying about how to win the next election until later.
    For Democrats who are chiefly opposed, chiefly supportive or chiefly skeptical of Obama, their stance has a lot more to do with the substance of what he is or is not accomplishing than it does with the assessment of how well Obama is doing at winning re-election in 2012, or managing the 2010 election.


  24. questions says:
    Another reading of party splits. Pretty interesting.


  25. Carroll says:

    Jane Harman’s only interest in clearing out of
    Afghanistan is to make way for Iran.


  26. questions says:

    I think congressionally speaking, what might matter is whether or not particular reps are seen by their constituents as doing the right thing, whatever that is.
    A Blue Dog in a district that wants health care may well be challenged by the Kos fundraising machine and ActBlue, and that might make a difference in some primaries. Any weak MCs are open to high quality primaries and some may be dumped.
    A Blue Dog in a red district will be okay, though.
    I think it might be better to focus on specific districts, then, rather than the party as a whole this time around. The intensity and specificity of the major issues means there are more alert and aware voters. And it is this group that will determine what happens. IMHO, that is.


  27. Steve Clemons says:

    brigid — you make a good point that the Republican party is less choate than the Dems. But the point of my piece and Charlie Cook’s is that the Dem party is breaking into three definable segments.
    I think Cook is right — at least at the moment — and in contrast to you, I listen to Charlie Cook frequently. He is very informed, very entertaining, and usually hits the bull’s eye.
    best, steve


  28. brigid says:

    Charlie Cook is not someone I look to for any kind of political insight. Events and how political leadership responds to them are what determines both political identification and the perception of success or failure. Where the economy is, geo-political events, and the success or failure of legislative initiatives like health care and financial regulation will all determine the fortunes of the Dem. party and its adversaries. For the present events favor the party of order, not chaos, and the party of government, not infantile teabagger barbarians. The punditry of the beltway boyz and girlz can’t keep up, much less progonisticate, with any claim to accuracy.


  29. Carroll says:

    I heard on MSNBC yesterday that a recent poll, (forgot which one, wasn’t paying attention until I heard this):
    “42% of voters now define themselves as independents”.
    Goodby, good riddence, red and blue, hello purple.


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