Peter Beinart has a particularly good column this morning. His argument in a nutshell: By pressing ahead with his health-care reform scheme, Obama has committed himself and his party to the left-wing netroot vision. He can’t go back, and neither can the party. I think Peter overstates the ideological “ambiguity” of Obama’s first year, but I think he’s right overall.
Whether health care reform passes or not, Obama has embraced polarization over triangulation. He has chosen Karl Rove’s politics of base mobilization over Dick Morris’s politics of crossover appeal, with consequences not merely for how he campaigns for Democrats in 2010, but for he campaigns for himself in 2012. And that’s a disaster for “don’t scare the bear” Democrats whether Obamacare passes or not. The reason is that the DLC wing of the party is much more top-down than the MoveOn wing. It has always wielded influence primarily through elected leaders rather than grassroots activists. But today, Obama is the only leader in the Democratic Party who really matters. As the retirement of Evan Bayh illustrates, there are few nationally prominent DLC-aligned politicians left. (The one person who could have rallied that faction of the party against Obama is now his secretary of state). The DLC wing’s best hope for relevance, therefore, was that Obama himself would restrain the party’s base, that his White House would nurture a new generation of centrist candidates.
That hope is now gone. From top to bottom, Democrats have decided to bet the party’s future on the belief that Americans prefer bold liberals to cautious ones. Now it’s up to the bear.