This morning while making breakfast, I was listening to part of Sam Seder on Majority Report. He was talking to “Indy Mike” — a guy I had heard mentioned in the past but didn’t know anything about. He was talking about how Obama shouldn’t take executive action on immigration reform. Instead, he should use the new Republican controlled Congress to make a deal with the Republicans. And if that didn’t work, well, everyone would know that the Republicans are just unreasonable.
It was one of those instances where I’m in the kitchen shouting at inanimate objects. Seder patiently explained multiple times that Obama had done exactly this five months ago when he announced that if the Republicans in the House wouldn’t do anything, he would. And Seder noted that the Senate had passed a draconian immigration bill that Boehner has always refused to bring up for a vote. What was entirely typical of Indy Mike is that he didn’t seem to know this history. As usual for such a “centrist,” he was calling for Obama to do what Obama has already done. And then he claims that Obama will get credit for being the “adult in the room,” even as he shows that he has given Obama no credit whatsoever for being the adult in the room previously. In fact, Indy Mike didn’t even seem to know that Obama had been the adult in the room over and over again.
Later, after Indy Mike went on his merry, Seder speculated about an alternate universe. Suppose that Indy Mike had not made his public announcement that Obama should try to make a deal now and wait until next February to do anything. Further, suppose that Obama went on television tonight and did exactly what Indy Mike thinks he should do (what Obama did do five months ago). In February, after it was clear that the Republicans were not going to do anything regarding immigration reform, Indy Mike would say exactly what he said today: Obama should offer to work with the Republicans and only take executive action later. Tomorrow, tomorrow! You’re always a day away!
When Seder countered that Obama had lately done exactly as requested, Indy Mike fell into a kind of No True Scotsman fallacy. Sure, Obama may have done what Indy Mike wanted, but he didn’t really do it. He wasn’t effective doing it. He didn’t publicize it enough. What this allows is for supposed centrists like Indy Mike to constantly move the goal posts. And that is because they aren’t actually interested in the policy. But that doesn’t mean that they are interested in process either.
Based upon things said after Indy Mike left, I got the impression that Indy Mike is independent in the sense that my father is; that is to say that he is just a conservative. The “middle ground” is a nice spot of ground to stake out if you are a conservative who doesn’t want to be seen as a conservative. You can claim to be reasonable and not partisan, when what you really want is for nothing to get done. If a deal ever becomes a real possibility, you can just join your friends on the right at that time.
The net effect of this kind of “third way” rhetoric is to allow Republicans to get a pass. Over the past 40 years, we have seen the Democratic Party move steadily to the right to the point where they are no longer even liberal on economic policy. The Republicans, meanwhile, have gone off the ideological cliff. But according to Indy Mike, it is still Obama who should be doing everything he can to get along with the Republicans. Even if the two parties were at the same place as they were in 1972, it would not follow that the Democrats should always be expected to be the “adults in the room.”
What’s more, listening to Indy Mike, the Republicans and Democrats are only equally to blame when Sam Seder asks that question explicitly. Otherwise, it is always the Democrats who are discussed. This is a kind of Marxist concept applied to modern American politics: each according to his gifts. Since we all know that the Republicans are unreasonable, we can’t expect anything from them. And the more unreasonable they become, the less the self-described centrists will ask of them. The “third way” crowd like Indy Mike are the best propagandists that the Republican Party ever had.