I’m wholeheartedly with Theda Skocpol at Talking Points Memo: Whether Martha Coakley loses to Scott Brown or squeaks out a win, Barack Obama, the empiricist, must learn from what is–one way or the other–a defeat.
He should take a hard, hard look at the last year. He tried post-partisanship, disdained the all-out fight, and the Republicans wouldn’t play. They preferred to organize for his Waterloo. The Obama movement, formerly “Obama for America,” now “Organizing for America,” went dormant. Energies cooled. Disillusions piled up. Enter the Tea Party. Anger abhors a vacuum. Blue Dogs buttered up with insurance company bucks. Many progressives rediscovered the pleasures of marginality. Democrats tried to straddle. Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and, God help us, Martha Coakley were not, to say the least, convincing vessels for delivering the message that Wall Street has to be tamed.
And so, slippery Scott Brown became the face of Change-You-Can-Believe-In.
Whether Obama actually believed in post-partisanship or thought it a clever ploy doesn’t matter. The important thing is to recognize, now, while there are still three years left to his presidency, that pragmatism of that stripe DOESN’T WORK.
Mr. President, you can’t nice your way to more stimulus, job creation, green policies, curbing the power of money, and public investment. The cut-deficits-first crowd will crush you. You have got to rouse popular support for majority rule. You have to join the political reform movement against anti-democratic Senate supermajority rules that tie an already undemocratic body in knots–not because you can win that fight, which is rigged at the moment, but because the know-nothing party is not a strategic partner, it’s an adversary. You have got to tell a largely inattentive public that the Republicans are the party that stands in the way of progress. You have got to display chapter and verse. You have got to insist.
If Obama doesn’t try taking the high ground, he’s no longer the pragmatist, he’s the ideologue whose ideology is moderation.
Mr. President: The only thing you have to fear is timidity itself.
Todd Gitlin is on Dissent‘s editorial board and is a professor at Columbia’s Journalism School. This article was cross-posted with TPMCafe.
Photo: Supporters of Scott Brown during President Obama’s Sunday visit to Boston (GRK 1011 / Creative Commons 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons)