Cross-posted at my blog Getting Critical
Most of the time when someone claims the usage of "revisionist history" it has a negative connotation. It is as if to claim that the opposing point of view is the product of historical hackery. Howard Zinn has done much to try to counteract this notion and as someone who views A People’s History of the United States as one of the most important books ever written in the English language I recognize the importance of revisionist history. Dana Milbank in his Washinton Post column today once again affirms his reputation as a Washington insider charlatan. In his column he applauds the President for his tough stand against liberals and in particular Pete DeFazio, a liberal congressman from Oregon. Using its more colloquial usage, Milbank is guilty of "revisionist history" in the first degree. For those of us who are baseball stat nerds we owe much debt to Fire Joe Morgan, a blog that went far to point out the dumb things that people in the mainstream media would say about baseball. It is in that spirit that I shine a critical light on Milbank’s most recent column.
Recently, one of my favorite political writers, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine, recently wrote of his experience at a political panel in which he was confused with political writer Matt Bai of the New York Times. David Gergen was surprised to see Taibbi railing against rich people because he thought it was Bai, a centrist pundit who would not dare harm his position as an insider. Taibbi writes of Bai,
Bai is one of those guys — there are hundreds of them in this business — who poses as a wonky, Democrat-leaning "centrist" pundit and then makes a career out of drubbing "unrealistic" liberals and progressives with cartoonish Jane Fonda and Hugo Chavez caricatures. This career path is so well-worn in our business, it’s like a Great Silk Road of pseudoleft punditry. First step: graduate Harvard or Columbia, buy some clothes at Urban Outfitters, shore up your socially liberal cred by marching in a gay rights rally or something, then get a job at some place like the American Prospect. Then once you’re in, spend a few years writing wonky editorials gently chiding Jane Fonda liberals for failing to grasp the obvious wisdom of the WTC or whatever Bob Rubin/Pete Peterson Foundation deficit-reduction horseshit the Democratic Party chiefs happen to be pimping at the time. Once you’ve got that down, you just sit tight and wait for the New York Times or the Washington Post to call. It won’t be long.
Taibbi’s analysis, as usual, is spot on. There is a large class of center-left pundits that cover politics who are so embedded into the Washington/Wall Street culture that they can no longer see things from any other prospective. It is this elitism that makes them hate progressives so much. We are but wide eyed hippies who don’t understand how Washington works. What they do not realize is that we understand how Washington works just fine. Special interests spend lots of money on the campaigns of politicians who act against the common good to appease their corporate owners so they don’t lose their check. We don’t much care for how Washington works and would like to change it. We reject it and promote a more democratic form of government.
The funny thing about Taibbi’s description of the prototypical center-left centrist pundit is that it fits Milbank’s biography to a T. Milbank, according to his website, graduated from Yale, then went on to work for the centrist center-left publication The New Republic, a magazine dedicated to trashing progressive thinking. He has written books about the craziness of Glenn Beck and the Bush administration to build up his socialite liberal credibility. Conversely, he must create false equivalencies between the likes of Beck with that of progressives in order to stay in the cool kid club. The result of this is that Milbank and those like him can keep all their precious contacts and appear as a rational voice on the left in a world of dumb hippies. People like Milbank are part of the problem.
Milbank’s hackery begins with the very title of his column, "Obama Finally Stands His Ground". He begins, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of President Obama. I’m not particularly proud of the tax-cut deal he and the Republicans negotiated. But I’m proud that he has finally stood firm against the likes of Peter DeFazio." Milbank admits that he doesn’t like the tax deal very much which is a familiar sight in these types of columns. It is never about the policy with these types. It is all about the process and the political grandstanding. Milbank is glad that Obama is standing up to progressives for being progressives.
God forbid that progressives push for policy that matches their beliefs and stand up for them. In this regard Obama and Milbank are wrong to trash progressive efforts because for us, we actually care about policy. Further, it was unfair in the first place for the President to shift the blame for not getting tax cuts on progressives when it has been the Republicans who have held middle class tax cuts hostage. The President had the public on his side and majorities in House in Senate that voted to extend the tax cuts for those making under $250,000. Instead of making the GOP filibuster a popular measure, the President capitulated and made a deal with Mitch McConnell that includes initiatives that Republicans would generally support to begin with.
This is true with the possible exception of unemployment benefits. However, opposition to such benefits has been mostly grandstanding in order to weaken the position of the President and Congressional Democrats. When given the opportunity to block benefits with the new Republican majority in the House it would look poorly on them if they held up benefits like it did when people did not get Social Security checks during the Government shutdown of the 1995. So, by making a deal with the GOP the blame shifted to progressives who don’t like the tax cuts for the wealthy and the long term threat posed to Social Security. Would Milbank and those like him applauded the President if he stood up to Republicans and made them filibuster. I think not because that would not be bipartisan since after all that is the most important thing with governing, passing bipartisan legislation.
The great pride that Milbank feels has a reason. That reason is the supposed dealings of progressives in Congress during the health care debate. He explains,
This is a hopeful sign that Obama has learned the lessons of the health-care debate, when he acceded too easily to the wishes of Hill Democrats, allowing them to slow the legislation and engage in a protracted debate on the public option. Months of delay gave Republicans time to make their case against "socialism" and prevented action on more pressing issues, such as job creation. Democrats paid for that with 63 seats.
The apparent lesson for the President is that the progressives held up health care by holding out for the public option and cost him the ability to focus on job creation. Once again, Milbank’s indifference towards the actual policy is readily apparent. It was much more important for Obama and Congress to get a so-so health care bill and put points on the board than try to pass other so-so legislation so that Democrats would look good politically. For progressives it is the policy that matters, not the politics and we are to blamed for sticking up for what we believe in? Are you serious? This is a clear expression of the false equivalencies made between the right and the left.
The goal of the right is to obstruct and make sure that nothing changes. That is why they are conservatives. They prefer the status quo to change unless that change goes towards shrinking government so that it may be drained in the bathtub. They don’t care about policy. We progressives care about the policy. Is that so wrong? Shouldn’t the point of politics be to have debates about what the government should do? Obviously, this altruistic notion is distant to Milbank. I guess he prefers the politics of scoring points and not pissing off the corporate overlords.
Here also is the "revisionist history" I have described. Progressives did hold out for the public option, this is true, but to blame Progressives for holding up proceedings when the opposition party had decided to make Health Care Obama’s "Waterloo" is ridiculous. With one party firmly in opposition, why not try to get the best bill possible since it is only members of your party that have to agree. A bill with the public option in it passed the house and would have passed in the Senate if not for Conservative Democrats in the Senate. Shouldn’t we, if we are blaming Democrats, blame the likes of Ben Nelson, since if they would have only agreed to vote with their party on a PROCEDURAL VOTE to bring the bill to a vote would a public option been accepted. They are the ones who broke with the long parliamentary tradition of voting with your party on procedual votes. Why not blame them?
I think Obama did learn his lesson. That lesson is simple and familiar. Nothing is going to pass in Congress that even somewhat as smells progressive because the bought and sold members of Congress blue dogs and conservative Democratic senators will not let it see the light of day. This is why Obama compromised. He could count on their support because it looks bipartisan, helps their corporate puppet masters, and allows them to further hinder progressive efforts for change.
Milbank ends his argument with a "we know better" flair.
Liberals, if they can see beyond their pique, should realize that the emergence of Obama’s forceful leadership could be good for them. This time, he stood against his Democratic colleagues, but there’s reason to hope that he’ll show his newly discovered spine to the Republicans the next time.
Why is it fair to assume Obama will now stand up to Republicans? It certainly is possible but if recent history serves as an indicator that is not likely. Obama is following the example set by Bill Clinton and expressed by others in which the progressive argument is discredited and a we have a better idea you stupid hippies philosophy takes hold. That is why we are so pissed off. We’ve been disenfranchised for nearly 30 years now. What indicates that will change considering that this administration has referred to us as "fucking retards" and "the professional left"?
Even if Obama were to shift his scorn towards the GOP it is a bit self serving. It would have been nice if he used to bully pulpit to mock Republican ideas at every turn.He didn’t do that and now that Republican hold the House, he can look good politically criticizing every crazy proposal that comes through that body. I thought we were supposed to be above that, in this post-partisan world, President Obama? I guess not. This familar refrain of blame the dirty hippies is getting old. How many more times do we have to be right before people listen to us. As for Milbank, he can remain in his cushy job at the Post on his high horse while we progressives will stay in the trenches watching the middle class shrink every day.