Obama and the Democrats’ Future

A shorter version of my rant from a few days ago:  Obama is the future of the Democratic Party that the Democratic insiders want; Sanders is the future of the Democratic Party that Democratic “dissidents” want to foist on them.

For all the symbolism, Obama is ultimately the champion of the institutional status quo. He is ultimately a triangulator, who instinctively dreams of concocting grand compromises that makes everyone happy, obsessed with discovering that sweet “median spot” that enjoys universal support–at least to the point that no one would be able to defeat.  In so doing, he does not seek to radically change the status quo:  plenty of people are heavily invested in maintaining the way things are, after all.  He believes that incremental changes and happy symbolism are enough to enlist a few more people in the margins.  Since Obama himself is a major part of that “happy symbolism,” of course, the changes that he needs to offer need only to be even more “incremental” than what others might need to offer, drawing even less on the purse strings of the defenders of the status quo.  Thus happy are the constituents of the Democratic establishment, who, by nature, are the defenders of the status quo.

Whether sincere or not, Sanders has proposed a “revolution,” something that would tear down the status quo and build anew, rearrange the deck chairs and reassign who gets what.  This is not, regardless of the specifics, what any defenders of any status quo would want, and the Democratic Party is part of that status quo.  It is not surprising than he should not be the future that they want.

The real question is not whether Sanders is the future that Democrats want–he is not and that much is obvious–but whether the Democrats have a choice in refusing him.  What Hopkins really reveals by claiming that Sanders is not the future of the Democratic Party is really his belief that the Democratic insiders can still dictate the future of their party over the seeming discontent of the alleged angry mob gathered outside.  This is a repeat of the premise of The Party Decides again, with an almost exactly same premise.  It is a different question from what the future is, for it asks whether the Democratic Party can get the answer it wants and as such, requires a (slightly) different answer.

Hopkins claims that “Obama has shown you can win nationally as a Democrat not as a liberal crusader, but not as someone who takes on the left of the party to prove to the swing voters that you’re not a liberal, either.” In other words, someone who can be all things to all sides, someone who can magically get the angry mob to disperse without conceding them anything “substantial” enough to cause quarrel with the status quo.  But how many people can pull off that symbolic trick?  This is more than just a skill in political entrepreneurship, but a fortuitous combination of  both skills and rather unusual (to say the least) background.  Can this sort of unicorn be found again, in the future?  Even then, that he has failed to sufficiently calm the angry mob gathered outside the gate should be obvious now:  that a large enough unhappy mob has assembled while Obama is still the president to seriously threaten derailment of the Democratic insiders’ plans should be a warning sign.  If I were a betting person, the chances are nearly nil that Democrats can find another Obama.  Even if they can, there is no guarantee that the mob will simply disperse in deference to his commands the next time, if there is a next time, and without concessions to the present mob, barring some form of economic miracle which seems improbable, that next time seems nearly inevitable.

If the Democrats are wise and want to prolong their institutional life, I think they would try to accommodate more Sanders into their future.  I do not believe they are, so I believe Hopkins will prove more right than wrong:  they will have “learned” that Obama is the future and will try to deny Sandersites’ role by institutional hook and crook while offering up a caricature of Obama in absence of a real thing, someone who has all the right “image” but not quite the whole package–a sort of Democratic Marco Rubio, perhaps?  Will this “future” last long?  I don’t think I would bet on that.



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