An excited conservative commenter called my attention to a column published in my local paper. The column was written by two long-time Washington insiders, Cokie and Steve Roberts.
Cokie, currently an analyst and commentator for, respectively, NPR and ABC News (and lately appearing now and then on MSNBC), is the daughter of a Democratic congressman (who was once Majority Leader in the House and who died in a 1972 plane crash) and of a Democratic congresswoman (who was elected to replace her husband and who served from 1973 to 1991). Both of Cokie’s parents served the good folks who live in and around New Orleans. Steve Roberts, a magna cum laude Harvard graduate, has worked as a journalist for The New York Times and The Washington Post and for U.S. News and World Report. He also plays the analyst and commentator role on both radio and television.
You get it by now. These two are the very definition of “Beltway insiders.”
The column that so excited my conservative commenter, titled in most papers as ‘The rise of liberal self-delusion,” began this way:
The civil war ripping through the Republican Party is familiar by now. But a similar battle inside the Democratic Party is just starting to emerge. Orthodox liberals are trying to mimic the tea party and impose political correctness on moderate apostates.
Ahh, I thought to myself. It was only a matter of time. It was only a matter of time before some prominent Democratic commentators joined the anti-liberal Third Way crowd by comparing what recently energized liberals are doing to what Tea Party nuts like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have been doing for some time now. There apparently is a law of symmetry in the physics of polite political punditry that occasionally requires the obligatory “both sides are guilty” column or TV rant, and the Roberts duo did not disappoint.
They unbelievably and absurdly compared the nomination of Tea Party freaks like Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donell and Sharron “Second Amendment remedies” Angle and Todd “legitimate rape” Akin to Elizabeth Warren and New York’s Bill de Blasio. They took the hopeful, if unrealistic, words of a very liberal and very excitable guy, Adam Green (who co-founded the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that dares to help liberals run political campaigns as liberals and, much to the chagrin of Wall Streeters, sometimes win as liberals), and turned those words into “nonsense” and “self delusion.” It’s as if the anti-liberals of the Third Way, that group of mostly wealthy quasi-Democrats who work and play in Manhattan’s Financial District, had dictated this column from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
It’s not that there isn’t a point to be made about ideological “purists” who think that their brand of politics is a perfect fit in every nook and cranny of the country. Of course it is ridiculous, at this point in time, for liberals and progressives to think that a bona fide left-winger could win in a bona fide backwater state like Arkansas (the example the two pundits used was former Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln, who was challenged in the 2010 primary in Arkansas by “a left-wing primary opponent”). I have criticized some liberal Democrats myself (including Adam Green) for not recognizing the sobering reality that in places like where I live, here in Petticoat Joplin, running on in-your-face orthodox liberalism is not a winning strategy for knocking Republican Ozark Billy Long off his taxpayer-subsidized D.C. bar stool. So, it’s not bad advice to warn Democrats that ideological purity can be harmful to the overall cause.
But for two prominent Democratic columnists to say that well-meaning liberal Democrats “want to impose their orthodoxies on everyone else”—just like what they call the ‘Ted Cruz Wing” of the Republican Party wants to do—is beyond absurd. The extremism of Ted Cruz and other teapartiers is real extremism, representing reactionary, roll-back-the-clock danger to the country. Does Cokie and Steve Roberts think that trans-vaginal probes are the moral and political equivalent of, say, tougher banking laws? Huh? Liberals are not authoritarians seeking to force Americans to bow their knees to Iron Age biblical morality or to the politics derived from selective readings, or from convenient interpretations, of the Old and New Testaments. They are mostly people who think that the wealthiest country in the history of the world ought not to have so many working class folks struggling to survive in the midst of all that wealth, and that an appeal to common sense and decency should be sufficient to make the point.
The Roberts’ column, as an apparent tribute to Beltway blindness, puts Elizabeth Warren, as sober and sane a thinker as you will find in politics, in the category of “the loony left.” As if economic populism is on a par with kill-the-New-Deal conservatism. As if fighting for reproductive and gay and voting rights is equally as extreme as shutting down Planned Parenthood and promoting Bible-inspired homophobia and making it harder for minorities to vote. As if believing in science is the same as, well, not believing in science.
“This is a moderate, pragmatic country. Any party that ignores that truth is doomed to defeat,” the D.C. pundit power couple say with Third Party conviction. Yeah, well, moderation and pragmatism are not the same things. Political moderation is a product of compromise between competing visions, even if the competing visions themselves are often fierce and intense and far from moderate. Pragmatism in politics is the idea that compromise is sometimes necessary to solve problems. In other words, pragmatism leads to compromise, which leads to moderation. The salient point is that one can be a left- or right-winger, committed to one’s principles, committed to fighting for them, but still be a pragmatist who settles for some middle-of-the-road compromise to get things done, if that is truly the only way to get things done.
And when you see it that way, when you see it in the sense of getting things done, of making the government work, you can clearly see that there is no comparison between enthusiastic but ultimately pragmatic liberals and authoritarian Tea Party conservatives, folks who won’t compromise with anyone and who would shut the entire government down or ruin our national credit worthiness, hurting millions of people and costing billions of dollars, merely to make an ultimately fleeting political point.
Sadly, Cokie and Steve Roberts, guardians of the mythical “center” in American politics, can’t, or won’t, see the difference.