Jun
05

How political pressure works

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Just Brew It 2016. Photo by Gordon Smith, former DH blogger, now local city councilman.

Just Brew It 2016. Photo by Gordon Smith, former DH blogger, now local city councilman.

President Barack Obama’s recent shift towards expanding Social Security provides an example both of how political pressure from below works and of the limits of a president’s ability to impose his will. Scott Lemieux writes at New Republic:

What has changed, then, is the politics. The leader of the Democratic Party believes it’s in his political interest to support expanding rather than cutting Social Security. The pushback against chained-CPI from both Democratic voters and many congressional Democrats was crucial in making this happen. And you can bet Obama has been paying attention to Bernie Sanders’s strong presidential run, too, which has shown there is an appetite for a stronger welfare state. He changed his public position on Social Security for the same reason he belatedly came out in support of same-sex marriage rights: that’s where the party was.

President George W. Bush’s epic failure to privatize Social Security (at least, in part) early in his second term, Lemieux writes, demonstrated the limits of both the bully pulpit and Overton Window shifting for moving the political center of gravity. In fact, Bush’s backfire may have been “the best thing to ever happen” from a liberal perspective. Republicans have backed off and their putative presidential candidate opposes entitlement cuts, saying, “Of course they believe they’re ‘entitled’ to receive the benefits they paid for–they are!” A deal’s a deal.


Reacting to Obama’s shift away from a Grand Bargain, Democracy for America chairman Jim Dean said in a statement, “If anyone has ever wondered what impact the grass-roots political revolution behind Bernie Sanders is having on the future of the Democratic Party, the sharp, populist progressive turn that President Obama made today on Social Security expansion should answer those questions.”

The problem with the political revolution approach is that it’s an every-four-year gambit for those who have no taste for keeping up the pressure on an ongoing basis. We tend to rely on white-knight candidates to lead the charge for us. Obama’s 2008 campaign was hailed for being the massive grassroots campaign it was. While he inspired lots of local efforts, as his campaign wore on it became the most top-down “grassroots” effort I have ever seen. Everything seemed run out of Michigan Avenue. It was a well-oiled machine. A well-oiled machine that post-November broke down as soon as the oil stopped flowing. And that was after a groundbreaking win.

The last time we had a Democratic congressman in these parts, I would call staffers I knew ahead of votes on issues liberals supported and ask how their calls were running. Ten to one against was typical. (Your mileage may vary.) Conservative telephone networks were cranked up, stoked by right-wing talk and bulk mail from Richard Viguerie or copycats. We on the left were waiting to be inspired by a the next presidential campaign.

At an annual home brewers festival here yesterday, I met two, under-35 couples I really liked. (It helped that I also liked their beer.) We talked beer and politics. They are relatively new to the area, so later I checked the state’s public database to see where in the county they vote. Three only voted in presidential years. One registered early in 2014, but skipped the election.


Is nothing sacred? Photo by author.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Democrats, Strategy

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