Commentary Magazine


Topic: particular Democratic leader

The “System” Failed or the Liberals Did?

Evan Bayh’s departure is unmistakably rotten news for Democrats. As the Washington Post report puts it:

Bayh dealt a triple blow to his Democratic Party and to President Obama with his announcement Monday that he is sick of the partisanship in Washington and will not seek a third term. The decision put his seat — and, some forecasters said, possibly his party’s Senate majority — in jeopardy, sent a discomforting message to already demoralized Democrats about this year’s political climate and reminded voters that Obama has yet to usher in the post-partisan era, a major theme of his 2008 campaign.

But liberals can’t accept the underlying message — that Obama and the Democratic leadership have failed to govern and are chasing moderates out of the party. So the battle is on to make this about the “system” or “partisanship” — floating and amorphous defects untraceable to Obama or any particular Democratic leader. Then there are the Republicans — the Party of No. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors sum up the spin:

Democrats have responded by blaming “obstructionist” Republicans, who lack the votes to block anything by themselves; or a failure to communicate the right message, though President Obama is a master communicator; or even Madison’s framework of checks and balances, though this system has worked better than all others for some 225 years.

John Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition and heads the Center for American Progress that has supplied the Administration’s ideas, summed up the liberal-media mood last week when he told the Financial Times that American governance now “sucks.” If you can’t blame your own ideas, blame the system.

Ruth Marcus is a case in point, whining, “The Senate, with its endless holds and 60-vote points of order, may be the epitome of a place that knows neither victory nor defeat.” She talks to Bayh, who obliges with a generic slam on the system: “The way Congress is working right now, I decided I could make a better contribution to my state and country on a smaller stage. … There are some ideologues in the Senate. There are some staunch partisans. The vast majority are good, decent people who are trapped in a system that does not let that goodness and decency translate itself into legislative accomplishments.”

So no one is responsible, or everyone is. And it’s all a generic downer. But is this right? It seems that the essence of leadership — what Obama is supposed to be providing — is to forge an agenda, corral Congress, and get stuff done. All this smacks of Obama’s “It is hard” complaint about the Middle East. Well, yes, but he also isn’t up for the job, based on what we’ve seen.

And then there’s the substance of what Congress has been doing for the past year. It’s been pursuing a far-Left agenda in the face of polling and election returns showing that the public disapproves, and strongly so, of its course. Congress then hit the wall when Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate. So now it’s stymied — no idea what to do. Gridlock is proclaimed. Well, why not head for the Center, pass that bipartisan jobs bill and a limited list of health-care reforms? Oh, can’t do that, because Reid-Obama-Pelosi won’t allow it. This then is an error of overreach and inept leadership by three Democrats who can’t shed their ideological rigidity. The system hasn’t failed — liberal rule has been repudiated. There’s a difference.

But fine. If liberals admit failure and claim that the country is ungovernable, then voters can choose another set of lawmakers and another direction. It only works, you see, to claim that the system is a mess when you don’t control everything. Otherwise, it’s an admission of incompetence.

Evan Bayh’s departure is unmistakably rotten news for Democrats. As the Washington Post report puts it:

Bayh dealt a triple blow to his Democratic Party and to President Obama with his announcement Monday that he is sick of the partisanship in Washington and will not seek a third term. The decision put his seat — and, some forecasters said, possibly his party’s Senate majority — in jeopardy, sent a discomforting message to already demoralized Democrats about this year’s political climate and reminded voters that Obama has yet to usher in the post-partisan era, a major theme of his 2008 campaign.

But liberals can’t accept the underlying message — that Obama and the Democratic leadership have failed to govern and are chasing moderates out of the party. So the battle is on to make this about the “system” or “partisanship” — floating and amorphous defects untraceable to Obama or any particular Democratic leader. Then there are the Republicans — the Party of No. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors sum up the spin:

Democrats have responded by blaming “obstructionist” Republicans, who lack the votes to block anything by themselves; or a failure to communicate the right message, though President Obama is a master communicator; or even Madison’s framework of checks and balances, though this system has worked better than all others for some 225 years.

John Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition and heads the Center for American Progress that has supplied the Administration’s ideas, summed up the liberal-media mood last week when he told the Financial Times that American governance now “sucks.” If you can’t blame your own ideas, blame the system.

Ruth Marcus is a case in point, whining, “The Senate, with its endless holds and 60-vote points of order, may be the epitome of a place that knows neither victory nor defeat.” She talks to Bayh, who obliges with a generic slam on the system: “The way Congress is working right now, I decided I could make a better contribution to my state and country on a smaller stage. … There are some ideologues in the Senate. There are some staunch partisans. The vast majority are good, decent people who are trapped in a system that does not let that goodness and decency translate itself into legislative accomplishments.”

So no one is responsible, or everyone is. And it’s all a generic downer. But is this right? It seems that the essence of leadership — what Obama is supposed to be providing — is to forge an agenda, corral Congress, and get stuff done. All this smacks of Obama’s “It is hard” complaint about the Middle East. Well, yes, but he also isn’t up for the job, based on what we’ve seen.

And then there’s the substance of what Congress has been doing for the past year. It’s been pursuing a far-Left agenda in the face of polling and election returns showing that the public disapproves, and strongly so, of its course. Congress then hit the wall when Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate. So now it’s stymied — no idea what to do. Gridlock is proclaimed. Well, why not head for the Center, pass that bipartisan jobs bill and a limited list of health-care reforms? Oh, can’t do that, because Reid-Obama-Pelosi won’t allow it. This then is an error of overreach and inept leadership by three Democrats who can’t shed their ideological rigidity. The system hasn’t failed — liberal rule has been repudiated. There’s a difference.

But fine. If liberals admit failure and claim that the country is ungovernable, then voters can choose another set of lawmakers and another direction. It only works, you see, to claim that the system is a mess when you don’t control everything. Otherwise, it’s an admission of incompetence.

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