Feingold Rides the Zeitgeist Over Eleanor Clift

Eleanor Clift has penned a column that sounds like she wrote it after playing spin the Jameson's with Chris Matthews and John McLaughlin at Bob Shrum's St Paddy's Day bash. A bigger puddle of misguided conventional wisdom I have not seen in quite some time.

Democrats must have a death wish. Just when the momentum was going against the president, Feingold pops up to toss the GOP a life raft.

*sigh* How many more years are we going to hear this tired nonsense from establishment pundits before people wake up and realize that ever since the Democrats took on this kind of appeasment strategy they have been losing. I have written before that I was an enthusiastic New Democrat at one time --- embracing all the stuff about modernizing politics and marginalizing the "crazies" and creating a new, technocratic party where our "competence" would so dazzle the population that we could set aside all that unpleasant passion and ideology and just simply run the government "the smart way." Man, did I like the sound of that.

There was only one little problem, after we were done patting ourselves on the back for being more brilliant than everyone else in the room, the Republicans beat the crap out of us over and over again. And over time that vision has been whittled down to a belief that if we just wait them out, the country will wake up and realize that we aren't really worse than the other guys so don't make waves.

The conventional wisdom in DC has now ossified into a reflexive notion that Democrats must do nothing. Ever. They must hold back and say nothing when the Republicans are on top and they must hold back and say nothing when they are on the ropes.

Naturally, Clift turns to ex-Republican and current DLCer, Marshall Wittman:

To win in '06, he says, "Democrats need to take the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm."

To the Republicans.

But the scruffy, louts out in the country disagree that taking on the Republicans while they are down is bad politics. With a president at 33%, they wonder why in the hell they shouldn't do any harm? What kind of margin for error do we need, a president in the 20's? A negative 10? How low does a Republican have to sink before we aren't afraid to take him on?

Clift assumes, without any kind of proof, that Feingold's motion is going to help Republicans in the polls. Why? The polling suggests that there is a very sizeable minority, in one poll a plurality of people who favor censuring the president. Her own magazine has censure favored by 42% of the country.

But nobody in DC even entertained the possibility before dismissing it out of hand. Jim Lehrer was gobsmacked last Friday night when Tom Olipghant suggested that this wasn't such a left field move after all:

JIM LEHRER: Before we go -- quickly -- what do you think of the Feingold -- speaking -- you mentioned Feingold -- what do you think of the Feingold resolution to censure President Bush on the NSA surveillance thing?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the conventional thing, that Republicans -- any time Democrats are in the news, Republicans feel good about it. When Republicans are in the news, they feel bad about it.

DAVID BROOKS: So, it was -- it was good for the Republicans. And I think most Democrats acknowledge that.

TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, but a little polling data to end.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, my goodness.

TOM OLIPHANT: For censure or against it, American Research Group last week: for, 48, against, 43 -- impeachment: against, 50, for, 43. There is...

JIM LEHRER: You mean this is a national poll?

TOM OLIPHANT: That's right, 1,100 cases last week.


TOM OLIPHANT: This -- there are emotions out there in the country. Feingold did not make this up.

Brooks is right that most Washington Democrats "acknowledge" that this will hurt Democrats, but it is based on the fact that they have internalized GOP cant that says Democratic voters are extremists and the president is popular.

Just a couple of months ago Matthews was saying this:

"Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left."

Even now, with the numbers so clear, he can't process it:

"I always thought Bush was more popular than his policies. I keep saying it, and I keep being wrong on this. Bush is not popular. I'm amazed when 50 percent of the people don't like him -- just don't like this guy. Thirty-nine percent like him. Are you surprised? Does that fit with the world you walk in?"

Clearly it doesn't fit in in the world Chris Matthews and Eleanor Clift walk in, which is the Republican establishment.

Clift writes:

The Democrats' dilemma is how to satisfy a restive and angry base without losing the rest of the country. "If someone proposed stringing up Bush like they did Mussolini, that would have a lot of support in the base of the party, too," says a Democratic strategist. "But it's not smart." Democrats want the November election to be a plebiscite on Bush's job performance, not a personal vendetta. "Republicans will rally round him if they think it's a personal attack just like we did with Clinton," warns the strategist.

Clinton had an approval rating in the 50's. The country was in the midst of the greatest expansion in history. The entire world looked to us to lead them through the post cold war world. Yet Republicans insisted on impeaching him for lying about a sexual indiscretion Now that's a personal vendetta.

This president is in the low 30's. Most Americans hardly feel the good news in the economy because the benefits have been rigged to go to those who make more than $250,0000 a year. He's made a fetish out of abusing his power with a non-stop assault on the contitution, international law and civilized norms. He has asserted a principle of executive authority that says he does not have to abide by the law. And it's extreme to think this deserves a mild rebuke from the body that writes those laws in the first place?

And I shouldn't have to point out that since the Republicans impeached president Clinton, among other things, they have increased their majority in the congress, won two presidential elections, enacted every wet dream tax cut they ever had, rolled back every regulation they ever hated and installed two right wing ideologues on the court. And that doesn't even begin to cover it.

Yes, the Republicans have certainly paid a steep price for impeachment, haven't they?

Grover Norquist really understands Washington. When asked what he thought would create more social comity between the parties he wasn't just being cute:

Rock-ribbed Republican Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, proffered a solution, tell[s] us that Democrats must accept the finality of their powerlessness. "Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such."

He was showing a deep understanding of how today's political establishment works. The DC pundit-strategist class seem to have "accepted the finality of Democratic powerlessness." People like Marshall Wittman and Eleanor Clift are telling the rest of us to do it too. Remember the GOP is the "daddy party" and you all know what he's like when he get's mad. Don't make trouble.

Clift wrote:

"there is a vacuum in the heart of the party's base that Feingold fills, but at what cost?"


If the Democrats lose in November, I'm sure she'll find plenty of people to blame, but it won't occur to her that the reason people didn't vote for the D's was because the party listened to people like her and campaigned like a herd of neutered animals instead of listening to their hearts, their minds, their constituents and their leaders who were prepared to take a stand for what we believe in. No, they'll blame the "extremists" who want a safety net and a sane terrorism policy --- and leaders who defend the constitution. It couldn't possibly be that their tired, stale reflexive passivity is to blame when half the base fails to turn out because they just. have. no. hope.

Digby blogs at Hullabaloo