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Narcissism and Electoral Politics: An Unappealing Combination

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I heartily endorse Garry Wills’s response to Roberto Unger. And the point about party leadership extends to both candidates. As I’ve said before, the even bigger error being made by the “Obamney” crowd is to assume that his relatively moderate record as governor of Massachusetts is somehow indicative of an underlying moderation that will surface as president. It says nothing about how he’ll act as the head of a very different political coalition in a different political context. Expecting major brokerage parties to lead radical social change is ridiculous, and I can’t believe that Unger really believes the central thrust of what he’s saying.  And if he believes that Obama losing will transform the Democrats into a social democratic party 2008 must be the first time he’s paid attention to a presidential election.

I would actually push the point further and say that it’s also critical to consider institutional factors. One rejoined to Wills’s point is that it’s not just Obama, but the Democratic party itself that is no great shakes. Which is true, but it’s not just a straightforward question of making Democrats more liberal; a progressive party that can’t put together a majority coalition in both houses of Congress isn’t worth anything. The structure of Congress, particularly strong bicameralism compounded by the malapportionment of the Senate, give the minority of conservative Democrats disproportionate power, and in most of theses states they can’t be replaced by liberal Democrats. Republicans have more leeway to be ideologically homogenous. This is a fundamental problem that can’t be easily solved by wishing for a politically purer president or other party leader or another third party suicide bombing like 2000.

Of course, this kind of narcissism is hardly confined to leftier-than-thous. I give you verbatim Mr. Tommy Friedman:

Obama loyalists often say: “Those Republicans are so bad. They’ve tried to block us at every turn.” Yes, the G.O.P. has tried to stymie Obama; it’s been highly destructive. But the people who keep pointing that out don’t have an answer for the simplest next question: Why have they gotten away with it?

My view: It’s because too many Americans in the center-left/center-right do not feel in their guts that Obama is leading — is offering an economic plan at the scale of the problem that has a chance for bipartisan support and that makes them want to get up out of their chairs and do battle. Our situation is different from four years ago; people want to know the president has a plan for getting out of this mess.

Shorter Tom Friedman: memememememememememe! I demand that the president cater exclusively to my interests and values, and if he does David Broder will bring us all bipartsian ponies from the afterlife, by marshaling the massive power that Warren Buffet has over congressional Republicans! Needless to say, Freidman also goes the full Kaus, complaining that Obama is running a “campaign that amounts to a series of discrete appeals to each of the Democratic Party constituencies.” Look, you women and African-Americans and labor unions just get out of the way and let plutocrats decide how best to inflict pain on middle class people, OK?

Needless to say, this kind of puerility is much worse coming from the onanistic “radical” center than it is from the left. Many of the issues Unger discusses are, at least, largely excluded from serious consideration in American politics, however odd it is to blame Obama for this. Friedman’s ideas, conversely, are represented in American politics far out of proportion with their political support, and Obama already reflects them all too well. But if political choices can’t actually come custom-made like a $4,000 suit Friedman finds the whole thing boring.

…Mr. Bogg: “A far left purity “progressive” is just a Tea Bagger with an over-sized street puppet instead of a Hoveround.”

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