FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
How not to handle internal party divisions
While others in these parts have teed off with admirable vigor on House Speaker John Boehner’s oddly shrill anti-conservative budget deal offensive, I’d like to offer a little something to study in contrast: Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) pulling the rip cord and trying to blast herself clear of the ObamaCare tailspin. Here’s the Landrieu ad:
This is all a bit much to swallow given the role Landrieu played in dumping ObamaCare on us, but it’s also amusing to see Barack Obama get a dose of his own Empty Chair medicine. She’s doing what Obama does: pretending she just arrived in Washington, and can’t believe the mess she found.
Internal Democrat strife over the ObamaCare disaster dwarfs anything currently going on between Republicans over their budget deal, but you’d think it was the other way around from the media coverage. That’s partly media bias, sure, but it’s also a result of the way both sides play these things out.
Here’s Boehner unloading on conservative groups critical of the budget deal, complete with his infamous “ARE YOU KIDDIN’ ME?’ meltdown:
With all due allowances for the difference between a prepared campaign ad and a press conference held by a stressed-out party leader, it occurs to me that the huge fundamental difference between the approach of the two parties to their internal strife is that Democrats don’t attack their constituents. Landrieu is trying to distance herself from Barack Obama, maybe even shame him a little with all that stuff about keeping his promises. Boehner is savaging his conservative constituents and the groups they support. He’s not browbeating some uppity congressman with designs on the Speaker’s gavel. He’s railing against pied-piper think tanks and the presumably gullible Republican voters who support them.
It doesn’t help Boehner’s cause that he’s so fundamentally wrong in his critique. The people he’s taking issue with did read the budget deal. In some cases, as radio host Mark Levin has been pointing out for the last few days, details were passed out by the Republican leadership’s own staffers. It would be one thing if Boehner stood up for the budget deal on its merits, or even stuck with his dismaying but perhaps defensible point that it’s the best deal Rep. Ryan could manage, given the political circumstances. He might even have found a graceful, roundabout way of acknowledging that his top priority is avoiding another government shutdown drama, conceding that the Party of Big Government has the whip hand in budget negotiations until the Senate and White House change hands.
But instead, Boehner goes on a rant against the Tea Party rascals who pushed “his” members into the ObamaCare defunding fight. (When did they become “your” representatives, Mr. Speaker? That’s exactly the sort of language you should never, ever use at times like this.) He should be directing his ire at the Democrats, the opposition, the people who make it necessary for math wizard Paul Ryan to accept a deal he knows is inadequate to the fiscal challenges at hand. You don’t get the sense from Boehner that he thinks the lopsided political climate is a terrible state of affairs which the American people must remedy at the earliest opportunity. He evidently thinks it’s more important to choke off donations to the Heritage Foundation.
The Boehner attitude doesn’t sit well with that “next time we’ll fight!” promise we’re all tired of hearing. Unfortunately, this is precisely the moment when it would be nice to believe that promise, because there’s a real chance the ObamaCare disaster will give the Senate to Republicans next year, and a bit of political skill could help them ride that wave of popular discontent right into the White House. There really is a sound argument to be made for building political strength – by forthrightly telling the American people what the GOP wants to do, and respectfully requesting the muscle to get it done – before picking any more big fights.
We’re not just going through a few tough news cycles for Democrats; the entire philosophy of managerial liberalism is facing an existential crisis. Personally, I think whatever budget deal is negotiated needs to be a bit better than Murray-Ryan, particularly when it comes to avoiding the sophistry about “more spending now, restraint later” that got us to $17 trillion in national debt, and it’s a hideous mistake to replace any portion of sequestration with tax increases. I can understand the value of keeping focus on the midterm elections, and avoiding the kind of squabble that would give the Democrats a way to drag themselves out from beneath the wreckage of ObamaCare. But the GOP leadership also has to understand the importance of keeping their conservative base motivated.
So why in the world is John Boehner insulting the conservative base, declaring war against it, and borrowing the language of Democrats to wail about the “far right?” Have you heard anyone in the Democrat Party complain about their “far left” lately? Have you ever heard anyone of prominence among Democrats do that? They’re generally pretty careful about antagonizing their base voters. They pretend to be “moderates” and “centrists” sometimes, but they don’t generally personalize the “far left” while trying to distance themselves from it. And they’re extra-careful about avoiding rhetoric that implies a large number of Democrat voters are sheep herded around by political organizations or left-wing think tanks. No matter how badly ObamaCare crashes, you’re not likely to hear the likes of Mary Landrieu complain about the hardcore liberals who cooked it up, or how its failure has caused them to lose “all credibility.”
Among the many good reasons for avoiding such talk, activist groups and think tanks tend to outlast individual politicians. Littering the media battleground with sound bites about how they’ve “lost all credibility” is not a wise long-term strategy. If, as many suspect, Boehner is working on battlespace preparation for an immigration showdown, he seems to be working awfully hard to hand that 2014 election back to the Democrats. Maybe he’s not so uncomfortable with the current political landscape after all.