My readers should know by now that I'm not an ideological purist. If a Democratic politician generally believes in a progressive platform but sincerely holds some conservative views, and is elected while being up-front about what he believes, and is enough of a team player to hold to the party line on key votes when unity is asked for, then I won't hold the occasional dissenting vote against him. I want sincere, thoughtful Democrats in office, and that necessarily means that I can't have party-loyal automatons. Centrism, sincerely held and responsibly exercised, is not an evil thing.
What I despise, however, is centrism as an electoral strategy, and that is the basis for my frequent rants against the DLC, the DCCC, Hillary Clinton, and, lately, Barack Obama. Not only do I find it dishonest and disingenuous, but I think it makes for lousy campaign strategy; ever since the Democratic Party was captured by Clinton Centrists, we've lost the Senate, lost the House, lost the courts, and lost the respect of the American people, and our tepidity is now so ingrained that we can't even muster a mild simmer, let alone a roiling boil, when the President admits to breaking the law and tells Congress there's no a damn thing it can do about it. Centrism, as a strategy, has been a dismal failure, and the sooner we jettison it (and its adherents), the sooner Democrats will be players again.
As to Obama, I've been soundly chastised in the comments to this earlier post by Katherine of Move To The Left, who makes cogent arguments and backs them up with links and references, and I'm still open to being convinced he's not one of the triangulating-centrist crowd. But I can't ignore this superb analysis of Democratic politics by R.J. Eskow on The Huffington Post, which neatly explains why we need to roll back the Clintonites and re-establish the Democratic Party as one predominantly of liberal, not centrist, ideas.
Eskow's whole piece is worth reading, but here are some of the pithier excerpts:
The centrist approach worked for Bill Clinton in '92, but things were different then (including a three-candidate race). And, as I've written before, Bill Clinton didn't win because of his triangulation strategy, he won because he's Bill Clinton. ***
Barack Obama is widely considered the front-runner for the VP slot should Hillary Clinton capture the nomination in '08. His recent endorsement of right-winger Joe Lieberman in the presence of liberal challenger Ned Lamont was a calculated slap - not only toward the liberal blogosphere, which has warmly endorse Lamont, but toward the great numbers of mainline Democrats who have been alienated by Lieberman's zealous support for the stumbling war effort.
Obama may have been paying Lieberman off for some favors, but he was also sending a message to the Party's insiders that says "I'm one of you." He's been doing that since he voted to confirm Condi Rice. In addition, he was sending a message to the commentariat that he's not "crashing the gate." He was signaling instead that he's an insider politician who - never fear, Mr. Russert et al - will play the game the ways it's always been played.
This "Run Against the Democrats" strategy is also reflected by Hillary Clinton's recent moves to run to the right of the Republicans on the issue of war with Iran....
There are number of risks for the party here. One is the fact that Presidential elections are decided far more on the basis of character and trust than are other elections. Like most voters, I'm more comfortable with a politician who sincerely disagrees with me about an issue (even a critical one like Iraq) than I am with one who appears calculating and cynical in the pursuit of my vote.
Another concern is having an energized base. The Democratic base may not perceive a "clear and present danger" in '08 the way they did in '04. If not, they may stay home or go to a third party rather than be slighted once again by their party's leadership.
I'm winding up a 10-day multi-state trip, and committed Democrats are close to despair everywhere I go. Their belief is that they are being rejected by the party leadership, that leading Democrats no longer speak for (or to) them, that their votes are taken for granted, and that their future within the party is grim.
I think they're right.
Democrats who fought against third-party candidacies in past elections are now speaking openly about defecting to a new party should the Dems run Clinton/Obama or similar candidates, their present rhetoric unchanged. This is a real threat to the Democrats' chances in '08 and beyond.
Eskow's saying what I've been saying. How many times do we need to see triangulated centrism fail before we return to the recipe that worked for us for the 80 years before Clinton?
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