The Goal of Stimulus Is Not to Show How Progressive You Are

Matt Bai (New York Times, 11/9/10), as a standard-issue corporate media political analyst, sees the Democrats being moved to the right as an upside to their disastrous showing in the ’10 midterms. But he’s worried that the party isn’t learning the obvious lesson.

If there was any sliver of hope for moderate Democrats on a catastrophic midterm election night, it was their assumption that now, at least, the partys leaders would have to focus on recapturing the political center…. A lot of Democrats took it for granted that these defeats marked a repudiation of the speaker and of the party’s liberal agenda….

That is not, however, how Ms. [Nancy] Pelosi’s liberal supporters see it. Even before the votes were cast, a counterargument was already taking hold — that it was the centrist Democrats, and not the liberals in Congress, who had imperiled the party’s majority….

The theory here, embraced by a lot of the most prominent liberal bloggers and activists, is that centrist Democrats doomed the party when they blocked liberals in Congress from making good on President Obama’s promise of bold change. Specifically, they refused to adopt a more populist stance toward business and opposed greater stimulus spending and a government-run healthcare plan. As a result, the thinking goes, frustrated voters rejected the party for its timidity.

There are a few strange things about this argument, even beyond the contention that American voters–41 percent of whom described themselves as “conservative” this year, compared with 32 percent in 2006–somehow deem Congress to be insufficiently liberal.

Aside from the fact that “American voters” are not the same people from one election to the next, and the policies pursued by the party in power influence who those voters are, Bai misses a key point: The goal of a bigger stimulus bill would not be to make voters say, “A big stimulus bill? That sounds like something that accords with my philosophy of government. I’ll vote for that party!” The goal of a bigger stimulus bill, rather, would be to boost the economy, which history indicates is good for the party in power.

Likewise, the goal of a single-payer healthcare system or a robust public option is to deliver cheaper healthcare to more people–it’s the effective delivery of healthcare, not the ideology behind the system that delivers it, that would be rewarded by voters.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.