Glenn Greenwald and Ed Kilgore both have very good pieces up today on the impoverished left/right dialectic that dominates the media coverage of politics, and its inadequacy when it comes to discussing the dynamics of the health care debate. The sight of pundits yucking it up about the “Democratic circular firing squad” have become as tedious and threadbare as those counseling “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Both of these admonitions have at their heart the notion that “liberals” are being irrational, unreasonable and rigid in refusing to accept the Senate health care bill.
But in the very next breath, they will then promote statistics that say the tea parties are more popular than either the Democratic or the Republican party, and wonder if it’s an opportune time for a third party candidate. (From the “right,” of course, because who would take the “left” seriously.) At no time do the synapses firing in their brains make the connection that both the “lazy progressive bloggers” and the tea party activists are saying almost the exact same thing about the Senate bill.
Ben Smith printed a letter from a “liberal blog denizen” (who curiously didn’t want to use their name) that I think represents the White House/media thinking pretty well:
The trick is to put a package together that some visible element of “the left” is out there opposing, but that actually has the support of everyone who matters on the left. SEIU isn’t opposing the bill. NAACP isn’t opposing the bill. Important thought-leaders like Paul Krugman aren’t opposing the bill. Surf over to MoveOn.org and you’ll see they’re highlighting some “f*** you Joe Lieberman” stuff, but not seriously trying to push liberal Senators to vote “no” (indeed, during an earlier iteration of the argument they espoused the view that any filibustering Democrat deserve a primary challenge.). But members who want to feel like they’re doing some meaningful triangulation get to point to Jane Hamsher on MSNBC denouncing the whole thing and feel like they’re getting one over on the left.
This is probably the most useful role that the existence of a large and feisty activist blogosphere can play during a non-election time. Their existence and their passion shift the whole public conversation to the left. They make it possible for governing from the center to be *seen as governing from the center* rather than having a replay of the Clinton years when centrist governance came to define the left-most pole of the possible.
I read that letter and marveled that this is the thinking of the White House. And yet, I think it is. It’s got the blueprint for holding the “veal pen” captive, and then triangulating against those (bloggers) whose financial structures make them much more responsive to populist sentiment — and hence difficult to neuter. It’s the only way that lashing out at Howard Dean and coddling Joe Lieberman — something guaranteed to galvanize the netroots instantly — makes any sense.
Because blogs/Dean have been needling the White House’s health care shell game, they’ve turned their attention toward discrediting those messengers and trying to use it to their advantage. I understand the impulse — when you go into a comment thread of a blog post, the person who disagrees with you is the one who is going to get the emotional rise out of you. But it’s a huge mistake to overweight that, because you wind up doing what the White House is doing right now: standing with their backs to a tsunami rising over their heads, of which Howard Dean and the blogs are only a small symbol.
And the media, who are eagerly lapping up attacks on Dean and the crumbs being tossed out of the White House press office, only reinforce that blindness.