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The Democrats’ Bush Nostalgia

Posted on Dec 16, 2009
George W. Bush
White House Archives / Eric Draper

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Here’s what Democrats need to ponder: Can they prosper in the absence of George W. Bush?

His presidency was a tonic for Democrats and led to a blossoming of political creativity on the center-left not seen since the 1930s. No tactic, no program, no leader ever did more to catalyze the party than the rage Bush inspired.

The whole effort was summarized nicely by the party’s slogan in 2006, “A New Direction for America.” There was no need to specify north or south, east or west, up or down. Compared with Bush, any alternative destination seemed appealing. And by becoming the apotheosis of the fresh and the new, Barack Obama emerged as the most attractive guide to this unknown promised land.

The consequence is that Democrats must govern in one of the most difficult periods in American history while managing a sprawling coalition and working though a political structure near the point of breakdown—largely because of the dilapidated state of that dysfunctional and undemocratic partisan hothouse, the United States Senate.

Especially if you account for the scope of the problems confronted, Democrats could argue they are doing pretty well. It’s no small thing to save the economy from collapse. Winding down two wars is no picnic.

But politically, the Democrats are in trouble. They are at each other’s throats over health care legislation that should be seen as one of the party’s greatest triumphs. They are being held hostage by political narcissists and narrow slivers of their coalition.

When Democrats make deals, they are accused of selling out. When they fail to make deals, they are accused of not reaching out. Moderates complain that their party has gone too far to the left. Progressives chortle bitterly at this, asking what’s left wing about policies that shore up banks and protect drug companies.

Rural-state centrists insist on more fiscal discipline—as long as it doesn’t affect farmers and small-town hospitals. Progressives ask why debt should be the priority when so much more needs to be done to relieve unemployment.

This is a recipe for political catastrophe. An increasingly bitter and negative Republican Party may not be able to win the midterm elections, but Democrats definitely can lose them.

Their fractiousness is dispiriting their supporters, which set off this urgent warning bell in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll: For the first time in his presidency, more Americans strongly disapprove of Obama’s performance in office (33 percent) than strongly approve (31 percent).

Put aside margins of error and the fact that the Dec. 10-13 poll showed a sudden bump in Republican identification that might be a statistical anomaly. The point is that the trend is perilous. In June, strong approvers of Obama outnumbered strong disapprovers by 36 percent to 22 percent. Ardor and energy are switching sides.

There are no instant cures, but there is one thing that must be done fast: Democrats need to agree on a health bill and start selling it with enthusiasm and conviction. Their own turmoil and back-stabbing are making what is a rather good plan look like a failure while persuading political independents that they are a feuding gang rather than a governing party.

They have to focus in 2010 on immediate job creation and long-term economic mobility while explaining how aggressive measures to boost the economy now go hand in hand with eventual deficit reduction.

Congressional moderates must understand that their fate is linked with the party’s ability to govern, and grass-roots progressives have to be less on a hair trigger to shout betrayal. (I wish I knew what to do about Joe Lieberman.)

For his part, Obama has not appreciated until recently how closely he has been tied to Wall Street and the banks. He has been too reluctant to underscore how much of Washington’s dysfunction has been pushed to new levels by the Republican Party’s decision to grind the Senate to a halt. He has tried to make clear the size of the mess he inherited from Bush, but has not sold the country on the extent to which he has begun to clean it up.

Americans may not be sold on anything until unemployment starts dropping. Even then, Democrats will have a tough time making the sale if the process that produced the health care bill comes to define the image of how they govern the country. Democrats have every right to blame Bush for the fix we’re in. They can’t blame him for the problems they’re creating for themselves.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group


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By siki? izle, December 21, 2009 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For a long time now, or since i discovered US had only one political party, i’ve been nostalgic for old-fashione facism of franco and mussolini.
yes yes realy

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By siki? izle, December 21, 2009 at 3:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

thanks for all admin
Are you really cool

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By Robert D. Reed, Jr., December 19, 2009 at 3:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

” $8 Trillion in new debt”

“mandinka”, that’s just a flat lie.

(I put your screen name in quotes because I got to know some Mandinka women- I helped them provide home health care to my Dad, in the last months of his life. They were competent, trustworthy, kind, sensitive, intelligent, honorable people. They certainly weren’t lying know-nothing ignoramus bigots like you, hiding behind a screen name that you obviously picked for racist irony. Not that it would matter to you that the homeland of the Mandinka people is more than 1500 miles from the land of Barack Obama’s father…)

George W. Bush left this country with a $10.6 trillion dollar debt on the day he left office, in January of 2009. 

The national debt is currently $12.1 trillion.

That’s an addition of $1.5 trillion, not $8 trillion.

Or maybe you’re not lying, after all, “mandinka”. You’re merely over your head with elementary-school level math.

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By BelizeanMike, December 18, 2009 at 3:01 pm Link to this comment

Barak is in a fix. He is a fairly nice guy, but he is no progressive. His party is Republican Lite. “It is hard to be an eagle when you are surrounded by a bunch of turkeys!”

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By mandinka, December 18, 2009 at 9:04 am Link to this comment

The dems have done a bang up job so far $8 Trillion in new debt 17% unemployment, record causalities in Afghanistan and Iraq, N Korea firing missiles all over the place Iran shooting missiles and now nuclear bombs, Hilary imposing a $20 Billion a year tax to be given to 3rd world countries for warming. A clunker boondoggle that rewarded japan and Korea a bailout that bailed out European banks.
What we have now is a gang that can’t shoot straight let alone run this country. Its what happens when someone who has never held a job and has been a quota baby his whole life is elected

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By overanddone, December 18, 2009 at 3:29 am Link to this comment

I was much happier with the Republicants in charge.
Sure they trashed the constitution, destroyed the US military, Collapsed the US and world economies, presided over the greatest redistribution of wealth in history (from the poor to the rich), blatantly lied bold faced to any and all questions, demonstrated cowardice in the extreme and a inability to do the hard work of governing, with not even the pretense of cooperation or concern for anyone that would not enrich them. Did it all with the arrogance, and contempt.
Ahh! The good ole days.
But at least I could criticise, and bitch with abandon.
Democrats would have a much more pliable republican party to partner with if they decided to scrap their watered down agenda, in favor of investigation and prosecution of the real evil doers.
I believe getting to work on the peoples business would gain republican enthusiasm in lieu of magnification of record the worst most embarrassing administration in US History.

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By jean Gerard, December 17, 2009 at 3:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wonder about this:  How much of the problem of inertia, lack of ability to act,
to get things done, is due to a widespread national sense of political fear
instilled in the Bush/Cheney years and perpetrated by the triple palls of “war
on terror” followed by the recent “global warming,” and “economic collapse”.

Fear has power to transfix people, to breed in them a sense of uncertainty and
apprehension. They tend to freeze.  An attitude of “things are so bad, so
dangerous, so complicated, so contentious that any changes we try to make
might make things worse.  Therefore we had better maintain what we have
been relying on and not move too fast.”  The result being profound fear of the
future, which leads to a sluggish gradualism.  Existing problems fester and e
discontent increases from all quarters. “I told you so!” is the cry from one side. 
“Why didn’t you do more sooner?” comes from the other.

If you look at the health care issue from this standpoint, the gap between what
is needed and what is actually happening can be explained in the above terms.
Solutions have been watered down by fear of change and reaction has ruled
the day.  As contentiousness rises, extreme partisanship increases and any
deals made in trying to “come together” instead of being “mutual” end up as
sell-outs that pander to the fear of change. Add to this the fact that we do not
have adequate ways for citizens to communicate with the people who are
supposed to represent them.

The combination of intensifying crisis and political paralysis tends to increase
hysteria, acrimony and confusion. (From the top down)  Wall Street has been
“bailed out” (making many people angry). The war in Afghanistan has been
continued (making many people angry).  The health care bill has been “watered
down b compromises” (making many people angry.)  Inertia and gradualism
have taken over, all of it perhaps because of political fears inherited from
Bush/Cheney and as yet unacknowledged. 

Not to “make excuses for cowardice” (Words make such a difference in what is!)
but perhaps if we understood the situation in some depth from a political and
psychological point of view, it would help all of us to escape from a kind of
bewitchment by “stepping outside of the circle” and freeing ourselves from
irrationalitiy.  (And I don’t mean to say here that protest is “irrational,” although
some protest may be so, and some non-protest may also be so.)

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By Mary Ann McNeely, December 17, 2009 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment

Obama is George Worthless Bush!  In what ways is he not?  He and his hollow men and women can be found in the wee hours of the morning combing the gutters for pennies after spending the daylight hours ripping off the nation and further enriching themselves.  This activity is constant; it never stops.  The United States is toast.  This nation has dumbed down and trivialized itself to the point that there is no longer any way out.  This is the hour of the egg sucking dawgs!

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By msgmi, December 17, 2009 at 10:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nothing has realy changed from the GW administration…incompetence and political dissention is still boiling over. The only positive is that former VP DC comes out of the woodwork to remind us of the positive results of waterboarding and that under his watch there were no terrorist attacks, say what?

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By myxzptlk, December 17, 2009 at 8:58 am Link to this comment

Why is it that political pundits like Dionne reflexively project disagreements in
re-election terms, not policy terms?

We all understand that winning political office and accruing political power are
essential to setting policy, but couching important policies in re-election terms
turns political power into an end, not the means that it should be.

Progressives may complain about Obama’s betrayal of his campaign promises,
but that’s not (exclusively) because we’re mad about the betrayal, it’s because
the policies underlying the promises are important to the country.

I agree with Caro and others here - the Democratic leadership shouldn’t seek
compromise for its own sake as a way to stop the “back stabbing”, it should
argue forcefully for the right thing to happen, and cast light on the hypocrites
who stand in the way of what’s right for our country.  Once they do, the back
stabbing will stop.

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thecrow's avatar

By thecrow, December 17, 2009 at 8:19 am Link to this comment

Difficult to know which of the corporate parties to despise most: the neo-fascists or their complicit, enabling false opposition. Meanwhile the corpse of the Republic is getting ripe and even the tv-addled public is starting to notice the smell.

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By pundaint, December 17, 2009 at 8:12 am Link to this comment

It appears to me that the Democratic Party big tent amounts to making it a party
for the willingly disenfranchised voter.  If you are a Right-Wing Crazy you have the
Republican party.  If your are a Corporatist, you have a choice of two parties.  If
you are a Progressive, you can be an Independent and go it alone.

There is no reason for the continuation of the Democratic Party, it stands for
nothing, and capitulates on everything.

If we must have only a two-party system, a new Progressive Party is necessary.

The purpose of parties is to bring the ideas of both poles into public discourse. 
What we have now is a fight between the Corporatist Right, and undecided.  Who
wins that argument?

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By bozh, December 17, 2009 at 7:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For a long time now, or since i discovered US had only one political party, i’ve been nostalgic for old-fashione facism of franco and mussolini.

Many of the democrats and republicans are just tad right of franco. In US and its msm, these people are known as liberals, progressives, etc.
The rest [save ab 4] of the pols are a tad left of hitler.

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By coloradokarl, December 17, 2009 at 7:12 am Link to this comment

Democrats or Republicans all just political hacks. ALL beholdin to the all mighty $dollar$. They take bribes in the form of campaign contributions and legislate accordingly. The Corporations look at working people as fodder for profits. To be used up and discarded. Vote them all out!! Colorado never has a “Senior” member in Congress. We also have 3 ballot initiatives slated to be on the ballot next November. 1) lower property taxes 2) lower income taxes 3) an amendment that requires ALL governmental borrowing or major spending to put to a VOTE By The People. Take control of your lives, People, VOTE THEM ALL OUT…....

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By Caro, December 17, 2009 at 3:04 am Link to this comment

It’s not the fractiousness that has us dispirited,
E.J., it’s the refusal of Democrats to develop an
agenda of policies that help ordinary people and fight
for it.

Carolyn Kay

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By ardee, December 17, 2009 at 2:58 am Link to this comment

The desperation of Mr. Dionne shows through this silly attempt to make a silk purse out of a worthless and pretty darn useless Democratic Party.

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By Filler Crowley, December 16, 2009 at 10:42 pm Link to this comment

Well, this sums it up pretty well, although all I can say in response to this:

and grass-roots progressives have to be less on a hair trigger to shout betrayal

is that we’ll stop shouting betrayal as soon as the betrayal stops.

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