The Gripers And Groaners

Ta-Nehisi Coates takes on the Obama administration's disdain for the "professional left."

Obama has been much praised for the magnanimity he shows his opposition. But such empathy, unburdened by actual expectations, comes easy. More challenging is the work of coping with those who have the disagreeable habit of taking the president, and his talk of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” seriously. In that business, Obama would do well to understand that while democracy depends on intelligent compromise, it also depends on the ill-tempered gripers and groaners out in the street.

The Party of Lincoln, whatever its present designs, has not forgotten this.

I think it's really easy to say the president has forgotten this because, obviously, he doesn't like to be criticized. But I think the left in general would benefit as much from a larger recognition that democracy depends on "the ill-tempered gripers and groaners out in the street." Part of the reason the GOP recognizes this is because Republican legislators face the very real threat of primary challenges if they stray from the party line. The Democratic Party, owing in part to its more ideologically heterodox coalition, lacks that kind of discipline. but as Matthew Yglesias wrote earlier this week, "The right has an impressive ability to focus on the full spectrum of things that matter, pouring millions of dollars into state legislative races while I think the left remains morbidly obsessed with the desire to hear different presidential speeches."

While I would probably place more blame on the president than Yglesias for recent liberal failures depending on the issue, I think the fact is that liberal dissent has yet failed to materialize into something that will actually produce more progressive outcomes. And that's as much a failure to understand the importance of griping and groaning as the president or his supporters' dismissal of his critics. So while it's important to understand that the Senate is the reason there's no public option, it doesn't help the progressive cause to uncritically embrace the administration's Hooverism just because it's coming from Obama. 

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