Think of this as Volume 15, Number 10 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
When I say this President is going down the Nixon Road, a lot of people get upset on both sides of the divide.
It's mainly because they misunderstand Nixon.
Liberals see him as evil, as the paranoid with the enemy's list, as Watergate. Conservatives see him as shifty, as inconstant, and would much rather talk about Ronald Reagan.
But all Watergate did was delay the changes Nixon stood for. And Reagan could not have succeeded without Nixon.
Nixon turned the ship around. He came to office in a liberal era and left in a conservative one. That didn't happen by accident. It happened because he engineered it, tacking steadily into the liberal wind, feeding his own side mainly rhetoric, putting in place political assumptions we still live with, and that Reagan took full advantage of.
This President is having to do the same thing Nixon did, in reverse. While Democrats won in 2006 and 2008, they won in a conservative electorate. Fact is, our assumptions about right-and-wrong, or right-and-left, haven't really changed. That's why, in the absence of anything like a coherent program from the President last year, the knees jerked once again – they're used to it.
What the President is trying to turn around is more than a policy. It's those assumptions which Nixon put in place 40 years ago, about how our political world works. The assumption of ill will on the part of both sides. The assumption of enemies held by both sides. Until that assumption is challenged and defeated, American democracy is under grave threat.
So the President comes to every press conference in a relaxed frame of mind. He doesn't try to offer simple answers. He admits things are complicated. He calls for negotiation. He doesn't offer any instant anything. He says real answers take time. This didn't happen all at once and we won't fix it all at once.
The Republican victories last year were actually very good news. For Democrats. Warning against what someone might do seldom works. Fighting against what they are doing works better.
What the end of the Nixon era has created is a bi-polar politics. We rush all the way to the left, and when that doesn't work immediately we rush all the way to the right. Politicians usually think they're in the middle, but in the case of 2010's winners they weren't.
So now those people have to govern. They only have two choices. They can anger the people who sent them there (which is what Democrats elected in 2006 basically did) by taking half a loaf on their goals. Or they can force through massive changes, which is what they're going to try and do now.
Unleash the crazy.
Now liberals have some things they can organize against, and run against. More important they have constituencies that are being truly hurt, and it's their political job to find leaders within these constituencies, then support them. That's what parties do.
The leaders of tomorrow won't be middle-aged white guys like me. They'll look more like this guy.
Young people who are losing their education. New industries are losing in the marketplace. Black people and brown people and Asian people are being targeted. Teachers and public sector employees are being targeted. Working people are being targeted. Gays are being targeted. Republican governments across the country want to destroy these people “once and for all” – ignoring the fact that there is no such thing as “once and for all,” that there is always another election around the corner.
Out of this effort to shift the burden of paying for government to poor people, and protect only the programs of wealthy people, there is going to be a backlash. It's not the job of the President to organize these people into a political force. It's the job of the Democratic Party to do that. It's the job of the Netroots to do that.
There are going to be struggles, and stories, and headlines. (Picture from Momaroo.) There are going to be people in those headlines. Democrats need to use that anger to build their majority. Demographic trends are on their side. We are increasingly brown and Asian, we are increasingly diverse, we're increasingly tolerant, and Republican attacks on blacks, on Asians, on diversity, which play so well to their base, give Democrats the chance to firm up that base for a generation – a chance they would not have otherwise.
Nixon's mistake was his ill will toward those on the other side. Obama does not have this problem. His allies think he is, in fact, too kind to his enemies. But that's really what a President is supposed to do – represent the center and shift it subtly, riding on top of the waves created by his supporters and opponents on all sides.
Like it or not, Barack Obama is the Democrats' man. He is liberalism's man. He will feed us rhetoric. And even if that is all he feeds us, history tells me it's enough, assuming we're willing to do the hard work of fighting the fight which needs to be fought, which is in our communities, our city halls, and our state capitols, not on MSNBC.
By organizing, by allowing new leaders to rise quickly, by remaining united under the President, Democrats can watch Republicans rip one another to shreds when they don't get all they want, and confront them successfully wherever they do get it.
The wind is at our backs, thanks to the Bizarro Nixon.