Jay Cost has a wonderful article at Real Clear Politics arguing that President Obama’s failure to make major policy changes arises not from the fact that “America is ungovernable” but because President Obama “has simply not been up to the job.” Cost believes Obama made two major mistakes, one strategic and the second tactical.
Strategically he has governed from the Left, enacting broad policies which by their sheer comprehensiveness were to prove arid grounds for compromise. “Bipartisanship implies legislators with different world views working together. The larger a bill’s scope, the more likely it favors one worldview over another, and the less likely it will attract bipartisan support.” The result, he says, left no room for 30 to 40 Congressional Democrats who proved unwilling to go along simply because they could not sell their constituencies on a radically new vision.
Obama’s tactical mistake was to delegate the actual operations of policy change to Nancy Pelosi, who acted as his left wing “prime minister.” Pelosi in turn created a cabinet, consisting of liberal committee chairs and their acolyte staffers. This accentuated the process of polarization. With the inept and ham handed Pelosi in charge, the result was a:
policy [that] has consistently been built from the left – thanks in no small part to the very liberal chairs of key committees – with compromises made to win just enough centrist votes to get passage. On the jobs bill, the health care bill, and the cap-and-trade bill, the Democrats won only narrow victories due to mass defections on their own side. Almost all of these defections were from the center. Faced with a choice between losing a moderate or a liberal, the Speaker has consistently chosen to sacrifice the moderate. … America is not ungovernable. Barack Obama has so far failed to govern it.
“America is not ungovernable. Barack Obama has so far failed to govern it.” Cost is 99% right. But his argument misses the crucial 1 percent. The Left doesn’t want to govern, it wants to rule given the chance. It is as always willing to leave its own Big Tent behind at the decisive moment. The continual calls from the Democrat Left for Obama to “grow a spine” are really coded calls to say that the moment is now; that the President must ”seize the day, seize the hour.” It’s not as Cost imagines, a call to compromise. It’s a call to say that the time for compromise is over. They can drop the mask; they can hoist the Jolly Roger.
Noah Pollak’s description of the split between Amnesty International’s leadership and the head of their gender unit is the same story in a different setting. She was purged for her inability to support Amnesty International’s espousal of an Islamic radical. This too is a case of the vanguard leaving behind its own coalition when the moment seemed ripe. “Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit … went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg.” Gita, meet Amnesty International. She wrote explaining her suspension that:
“I believe the campaign [with Begg’s organization, “Cageprisoners”] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”
Saghal was suspended from Amnesty International within a few hours after publicly expressing her dissent.
Saghal closed the letter describing her suspension with a recitation of her revolutionary credentials. It is an eerie passage which echoes structure for structure many of the protestations of innocence by the Old Bolsheviks when they found themselves in the cellars of the Cheka, stuffed there by a leadership that found they had outlived their usefulness. She wrote:
I have been a human rights campaigner for over three decades, defending the rights of women and ethnic minorities, defending religious freedom and the rights of victims of torture, and campaigning against illegal detention and state repression. I have raised the issue of the association of Amnesty International with groups such as Begg’s consistently within the organisation. I have now been suspended for trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially.
Why does she think any of this matters? The Left is not about principles. It is about itself. It is about power. Now that President Obama has been politically weakened, look for the mask to come back on. The words of sweet reason, the entreaties to “make a deal,” and feigned affection will now make a surprise reappearance. When the Left cannot rule, it will try to govern. Until the next time.