Sunday, December 13, 2009

How the Tea Parties Are Helping the Democrats

With the Tea Parties surging as the loudest manifestation of populist outrage, many Republicans are crowing and a few have already proclaimed victory in the fall 2010 Congressional elections. Tea Partiers are trying to organize on a national level, although the very attempt to organize is exposing schisms among them. Republican power brokers, struggling with demands for ideological purity, blanch at the thought of the partying hordes. The worst case scenario for them is the possibility of a takeover by a heresy-hunting rabble that marginalizes the party. In the smoothly disciplined corporate world of mainstream Republicanism, the rank and file are supposed to provide votes and funding, not ideas and commentary.

Unnoticed amidst the shouting and spouting is how the Democrats have moved quickly to strengthen their positions. President Obama is ramping up troop levels in Afghanistan, seeking to justify war even as he receives the Nobel Peace Prize. He's much more cautious than a year ago about what to do with the inmates at Guantanamo. By all indications, he's got nary a peep about the rapidly disappearing public health insurance option. His Wall Street centric economics policy team has suddenly discovered the joys of helping small business and creating jobs.

Congress, too, is trying to get right with the electorate. A turbocharged push on health care reform has resulted in serious action; a bill will probably reach the President well before the 2010 elections. As popular anger at Wall Street has mounted, financial regulatory reform was approved this past week by the House. The big banks are p.o.'d, something that will play well on Main Street.

A crucial factor in today's political mosh pit is that the Democrats control the White House and both chambers of the legislature. Unusually, they can muster 60 votes in the Senate and overcome Republican attempts to filibuster. Thus, the rarest of all circumstances exists in Washington: a government that can actually get things done. And it is.

President Obama and Congress are shifting back toward the middle, accommodating the independents who put them in power. The President's Afghanistan strategy is particularly revealing. By authorizing more troops, he undermines the charge of being soft on terrorism. He has persuaded America's allies to furnish about 20% of the additional troops, thus avoiding the international irritation of W's go-it-alone policies. The 18-month time frame for beginning withdrawals conveniently falls after the fall 2010 elections, so voters won't feel as if they are voting for or against the war. Hopefully, the President's Afghanistan policy will produce something approaching a victory in the war. It is clearly designed to help win the 2010 elections.

Dismayed liberals in the Democratic Party have a lot to say, but not that much they can do. Indeed, their complaints complete the portrait of a President and Congress for the broad electorate.

Some Democrat losses in the Congressional elections of 2010 wouldn't be surprising. The dominant party always loses something in mid-term elections. But Republican proclamations of triumph are premature. If the President and Congress retake the political middle, the Democrats will be able to sit back and watch as the Savonarolas of the right burn their fires hotter and hotter.

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