David Sirota astutely analyzed the tensions within the Democratic party yesterday, keying off of a Wall Street Journal piece. Rightly critical of counterproductive public infighting, he concludes:
…what that inappropriately anticipatory behavior suggests is 1) that there is going to be a battle over whether an Obama administration (if there is one) is going to be a third Bill Clinton term (with all the corresponding incrementalism) and 2) that this battle is going to have very high stakes.
While Sirota is correct to prepare us for a fight for progressive principles that are not shared by some factions of the Democratic Party, I would also raise the possibility that even if tensions within the party may persist, an all-out bloody civil war may not occur.
Consider what is happening in Beltway circles in regards to a second economic stimulus package.
Isaiah Poole noted that a consensus is forming around doing something big and bold:
There is a strengthening consensus that the response has to be at least $300 billion a year, with a large portion of that going into infrastructure projects, direct aid to state governments, and into programs that will help homeowners and unemployed workers get through the current crisis.
Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein, long sympathetic to center-right incrementalist Democrats, finds the same consensus forming (emphasis added):
As Obama told me in our interview, a government-propelled transition to an alternative-energy economy will be his most important initiative. Translated into Washington terms, this means a massive infrastructure and stimulus package — in the neighborhood of $300 billion, according to the current speculation. There is a back-to-the-future quality to this: it’s what used to be derided as big-spending liberalism. The Beltway consensus is that the economic crisis makes it necessary now.
if there is a clear “Beltway consensus” combined with a strong grassroots push for a big stimulus that invests in critical areas (such as modern infrastructure and clean energy), saves state and local government from scrapping key services, and provides immediate help for those in the greatest need who will surely pump that money back in the economy, would moderate-conservative Blue Dog Democrats really risk the political backlash of stifling emergency action on the economy?
The Wall Street Journal article reports that these Blue Dogs don’t believe “the money is there” for bold action (indicating they don’t understand how “investment” works). But what’s their big demand, according to the WSJ? “One of the first acts of the next Congress should be approving a bipartisan commission to tackle the deficit and the growth of entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, argue the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats.”
As a “bipartisan commission” is hardly a commitment to support any specific legislation on entitlements, that’s not a hard bone to throw the Blue Dogs to get them to accept a politically popular Beltway consensus for concrete progressive action.
Tensions are certain. Fights will need to be had to ensure that progressive principles are articulated on our terms, not through the distorted filter of the conservative moment and the right-leaning punditocracy, so we can leverage public support and win those fights on the merits.
But an early victory on a bold stimulus package could keep those tensions to a minimum and establish a clear progressive direction for the 21st Century.
Which means that’s where grassroots attention should likely turn to after Election Day.