It;'s not news that the still-not-over health care reform debate has tapped a reservoir of raw emotion among activists on the left. Health care has always been an emotional topic for progressives, but a trip around the blogosphere at any point in the last few weeks reveals that its not just the lefties who are mad at what many see as a Senate template likely to do more harm than good. The Democratic Party's centrist set is at least at mad as well, but they are mad at lefties for being so mad in the first place.
So where is the center's mad coming from? After all, isn't the political center supposed to be the more restrained, pragmatic crowd?
Let's put aside for a moment the moderate (and liberal) devotees that surround the President's celebrity status. A lot has already been said about that dynamic (and a lot more probably needs to be, as its certainly not a phenomenon unique to Obama). I'm talking about the group I described in a previous piece as the angry center. Ideologically committed centrists who feel that their time has finally come - and they'll be damned if they're gonna take the back seat to progressives.
These aren't the mushy-middlers, who tend to define themselves based on what they're not (liberals or conservatives), these are the folks who've taken a stance based on principle and ideology, and who are tired of what they perceive as marginalization within many activist circles. Folks like Steve Hildebrand.
Objectively, these folks really have no business feeling marginalized within the Democratic Party. If there is any political sphere that has had little or no influence on actual policy in the last couple decades, its been the left . That's a no-brainer.
But this muscular centrism isn't rational - and that's the point. They're pissed off, and the health care struggle has brought it all to the surface.
Many centrists are furious beyond all reason at "kill the bill" progressives. Among much of the commenterati, the very suggestion of dissatisfaction or (shudder) opposition on the issue generates invective that turns the whole "angry left vs. pragmatic center's argument on its head; the leftist critics have specific, number-driven critiques based on a consistent approach to policy grounded in quantifiable projections, while these angry centrists respond by making the argument as personal as possible.
But as liberals are admonished to sit down and shut up in increasingly shrill tones, it's already obvious how badly it will backfire. First there was the oft-discussed poll showing Democrats becoming less inclined to vote in the next election. Now there's the race to fill Senator Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, which has become scary enough that national Dems are calling in the troops from across the country. Sure, the pre-emptive rationalization goes, that's just because she's run a rotten campaign.
Yeah, right. This is true-blue Massachusetts we're talking about. Even a terrible campaign for Kennedy's seat should be a lock. Not to mention the fact that her opponent is turning into a political train wreck.
Democrat Coakley will win the race, of course, and the margin won't be as close as some polls suggest, but the point is that the numbers have unexpectedly given Dems a scare, and if not for the fact that the Republican is a complete bozo, things might look very different.
All of this is to say that the angry center that's so up in arms is missing the forest for the trees. The fact is that elections aren't just about individual people, they're also about group psychology. The mushy centrists approach elections as exclusively about groups (focus groups, demographic groups, swing voters, etc) to the exclusion of all else (especially core principles). These energized, ideological centrists seem to have swung to the other extreme in a haze of myopic personal animus, ignoring the realities of social psychology
When Rahm Emanuel cavalierly dismisses progressives - and when that dismissal is echoed with rage from the ideological Democratic middle - it affects the collective progressive psyche in a way that is inexorable and undeniable.
Obviously there have been plenty of voices suggesting that progressive demoralization could impact Dems in the polls this November. But the response of the angry center - to simply scream and scream and scream - is a waste of emotional energy, and belies the fact that this ideological-middle is anything but as pragmatic as it fancies itself.
Progressive demoralization will decrease turnout, contributions, volunteerism, etc. It's simply a fact, and it has already begun. If a self-described centrist truly wants to define themselves as a pragmatist, they'll look this reality square in the eye and accept the objective wisdom of offering the left that seat at the bargaining table they were expecting after the last election.
If angry centrists instead want to keep yelling at the mean ol' liberals to shut up and get in line, they're simply ignoring the reality of human dynamics - and reality couldn't care less how loud you yell at it.