Revolt on the Left

The Belmont Club post Tipping Points argued the storm petrels would really arrive when Democrats "realize that [the party] can no longer deliver the goods it falsely promised them. A revolt within the Leftist constituency led by the constituency itself, rather than their traditional patrons will sound the true death knell for the old system. The Tea Parties can only heighten the issue. But a revolt by the Democatic minority and blue collar constituents will be the coup de grace."

That moment of rebellion, as manifested by an "enthusiasm" deficit among Democrat voters, may have been been coming for some time. But is it here? Byron York wonders whether Bill Clinton, ever the opportunist, is already looking to lead the discontented. Clinton recently gave such an ambiguous speech to a dispirited, half-empty auditorium that York remarked "does he really want Obama and Dems to win?"

Well if they've already lost the 2010 election, maybe not. Because Bill would be looking to lord over the remains. Toby Harnden of the Daily Telegraph thinks so too. He wrote that "as I reported a couple of weeks ago, Bill himself has stated that his principal motivation for going on the campaign trail was to thank those who had supported his wife against Obama", which sounded a whole lot closer to taking a factional side within the Democratic Party than an expression of solidarity.

The New York Times is catching some vibes too. It reported that 'Mr. Clinton is not particularly close to Mr. Obama". That's not surprising, since Obama took the Democratic Party away from the Clinton Machine in 2008. But Clinton, far too wily to marginalize himself, would support President Obama in a manner indistinguishable from undercutting him. Some sources have characterized Bill Clinton's two-edged stumps as a "retribution tour"; others have called it a "thank you" tour. In politics as in organized crime, revenge and expressions of gratitude are sometimes hard to tell apart.

He coordinates with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., but makes his own decisions about whom to help. He has focused on aiding Democrats who endorsed Mrs. Clinton against Mr. Obama, like Representative Mark Schauer here in Battle Creek. Some Democrats call it a “retribution tour”; aides said they think of it as a “thank you tour.”

This is the context in which two interesting documents have appeared: a letter from Hillbuzz to Rush Limbaugh asking for the great radio star to take sides in a Democratic "civil war" and Limbaugh's own Operation Reverse Chaos, whose watchword is, "Dems: Stay Home, Don't Vote, Help Hillary".  Limbaugh made this seductive appeal to Democrat listeners -- and he knows a large number of blue collar Democrats listen -- on his radio show, trading on the discontent he knows is there:

You Democrats who know that your party is being destroyed by Barack Obama, you Democrats who know that your chances of ever holding power in Congress again are vanishing before your very eyes because of Obama, you Democrats, you may have problems with this country, but you don't want to see it destroyed. If you have any desire that Mrs. Clinton someday take the Democrat Party back to where it was, remember those glory days of the nineties, the economic boom, we'd all like to return to those, wouldn't we? Wink, wink. The best thing that Democrats can do to make that happen is to not vote Tuesday. Stay home, put your feet up on the table, watch a soap opera or two, watch Oprah, do whatever, listen to this program, but do not vote, do not show. The bigger the Democrat defeat on Tuesday, the greater the likelihood Mrs. Clinton is the Democrat nominee in 2012. It's just that simple

Pundits might justifiably dismiss the Hillbuzz and Limbaugh documents as disinformation and sabotage efforts; attempts intended to divide and conquer. Objectively they might be right, but that would miss the point. Those calls are effective precisely because there is fertile soil to receive it. Limbaugh may be sowing Operation Reverse Chaos, but only because Barack Obama and perhaps the Clintons have tilled the field.

None of this should mask the opposite possibility: that Barack Obama, having despaired of winning the 2010 elections, may be deliberately using the trainwreck to purge his party of rival elements. If Byron York can ask, "does Clinton want the Democratic Party to win?" others have asked "does Obama want it to win?"  It isn't just Clinton who is playing the post Defeat Day game: Obama is also. When the sun rises over the smoking wreck of the Democratic Party after election day, perhaps only the die-hards, true-believers and hard core will remain -- by definition Obama supporters. The furnace of November will burn away the Clinton dross, confirming Obama and the Left as sole masters of the slit trenches. As Shelby Steele points out, Barack Obama's political constituency runs deep. He is the sixties man come to claim his inheritance.

But Barack Obama is not an "other" so much as he is a child of the 1960s. His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new "counterculture" American identity. And this new American identity—and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned—is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he is not displaying "otherness" but the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.

And now that it is within reach, they will not be denied. Having waited so long, no stinking Tea Party, nor washed-up Bill Clinton, and certainly no Repuglicans are going to keep them from that shining birthright. The trend and worldview Obama represents is deeply embedded by now in America. If Bill Clinton thinks he can blast it out of the Democratic Party, remove the growth that has been yearly increasing since 1968, then good luck to him. But Clinton represents demographic forces too, dating back from before the sixties and born of normal expectations every year. They are the kind of Democrats of whom Limbaugh said: they "may have problems with this country, but ... don't want to see it destroyed".

It is far from clear who will emerge victorious in the Clinton vs Obama wars. What is certain is that the low-income Democrats will not, not while the struggle for the party remains between the elites. In Trotsky vs Stalin, to use an historical parallel, Ivan is never a candidate. Whoever wins, it won't be Ivan. How can they put him on the ballot? Answer: with great difficulty.

Whereas tea-party type movements can easily spring up among politically inactive conservatives working mostly at day jobs, spontaneous movements are harder to organize within the left because the grassroots channel is already pre-emptively filled and watched jealously by professional militants, from labor union operatives to community organizers to advocacy groups. Tea Parties in conservative populations arise at need among a yeomanry in a relative vacuum. Tea Party groups arising on the left must struggle to survive in a Darwinian ecosystem of activism.

Still the seeds of discontent are there. If the Clinton challenge to Obama emerges openly it will momentarily legitimize all kinds of insurrectionary initiatives. In that hiatus the ordinary guy in the Democratic Party will have his chance; start to rethink his party, examine alternatives, independent of factions. It will be clear when that instant comes. While it is not here yet, the struggle of the Democratic grassroots to chart a future independently of their main factions isn't hopeless. Once it gets started all kinds of unanticipated, almost emergent events are possible.  Suppose there were more than two possible outcomes in a political alignment. More than Brand Clinton and Brand Obama? Suppose, for example, there were 216? Now suppose there were millions of possibilities.

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