The Netroots Nation conference has traditionally been an occasion for mainstream media types to take a whack at the unreasonableness of the left. Michael Grunwald offered up, if not a classic, a fairly representative example of the genre on Swampland yesterday. Take this paragraph designed to dispatch left criticisms of Barack Obama with patronizing parentheticals:
It’s true that President Obama is not as liberal as some Daily Kos bloggers would like him to be. (Although he has blogged at Daily Kos.) He continued some of President Bush’s national security policies. (Although he did end the war in Iraq.) He ignored left-wing calls to nationalize troubled banks. (Which turned out to be the right call.) He’s pushed for middle-class tax cuts and public-employee wage freezes that his base dislikes, and he’s outsourced most of the Republican-bashing that his base craves. (Which may be why he’s way more popular than his party.)
Let’s take the parenthetical potshots one at a time:
It’s true that Obama has posted on Daily Kos – although the most prominent instance was when he took to Daily Kos to criticize progressives for being too hard on senators that backed John Roberts (more on that one here and here).
It’s true that Obama declared an end to the war in Iraq – although 33 American soldiers died there this year, along with uncounted civilians and contractors, and Obama has increased (even counting the upcoming reductions announced tonight) our presence in Afghanistan and our drone strikes in multiple countries, and taken us to war in Libya.
It’s true that Obama draws some popularity from appearing above the fray – although his popularity is much more significantly affected by the state of the economy, which would have been improved by greater stimulus and less deficit and inflation hawk-ery and hack-ery. (Prioritizing job creation over deficit reduction is what the public wants too)
It’s true that…oh wait. What was the point when it “turned out” that we shouldn’t have nationalized the banks? Instead we’ve just nationalized their losses.
Grunwald goes on to argue that the left showed its unreasonableness by suggesting there was a chance at a larger stimulus or a more progressive health reform bill. Reading Grunwald’s analysis, you might wonder why deficit-conscious centrists like him don’t propose eliminating most of the President’s staff altogether, since he seems to believe that which legislation passes is purely a product of already-existing preferences of the senators:
Obama had pushed for even more, but it was trimmed at the last minute to meet the demands of three Republican senators whose votes were needed to pass it…Earth to the left: He didn’t have the votes for a public option.
Presidents are faced with choices amongst imperfect options. But so are senators! Does Grunwald believe there was no political downside facing Olympia Snowe if she’d scuttled the stimulus, or Max Baucus if he’d shot down health reform? Mitch McConnell and Jim DeMint would have been delighted to see health reform fall to a filibuster, but Ben Nelson filibustering health reform to death would have been a politically bad result for both Ben Nelson and Barack Obama. There are many reasons we ended up with the bill we did, from Obama’s public legitimation of a 60-vote floor for legislation to the lack of larger mobilization by red state progressives. But to hear Grunwald tell it, senators have immovable policy preferences and presidents are helpless to do any more than count votes.
I doubt Grunwald really believes that. More likely he just started his piece from the premise that opinions to the left of your typical Meet the Press panelists don’t deserve serious consideration, and then he filled in the rest from there.