Monday, September 14, 2009

Who’s In Charge There?

One of the things that President Obama has going for him in his campaign to reform healthcare, turn the economy around, reverse some (but apparently not all) of the Bush administrations more odious and secretive methods of interrogation of captives, and close Gitmo is that his opposition is basically without any leadership. It is, as the protesters that gathered in Washington D.C. demonstrated — in both senses of the word — without any direction other than the usual right-wing vitriol that is their stock in trade. As Steve Benen noted after Saturday’s event,

As for what the overwhelmingly-white crowd had to say, I still think these protests could benefit from some focus. We learned today that right-wing activists don’t like government spending (except when Bush and Republican lawmakers spent freely), don’t like the size of government (except when Bush and Republican lawmakers increased the size of government), don’t like deficits and debt (except when Bush and Republican lawmakers added trillions to the nation’s tab), and don’t like czars (except when Bush used dozens of them to implement his agenda).

They don’t like health-care reform, though it’s not clear why. They don’t like gun control, though it’s not clear why they think anyone’s coming for their firearms. They also don’t like taxes, immigration, abortion, Muslims, the U.N., and the idea of “socialism,” though their understanding of the word is tenuous at best.

In other words, the point of today’s rally was to let the country know there are a lot of right-wing activists with right-wing beliefs. We knew that before today, but I guess they wanted to remind us.

The other thing these people lack is someone to lead them. Unlike what happened in 1994, they have no nominal leader in power like Newt Gingrich who could articulate — even if it was something as sound-bitten as the “Contract for America — an alternative agenda that appealed to more than just the folks who think Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are fair and balanced. So far they’ve trotted out RNC Chair Michael Steele, who has proved to be great for punchlines, and any number of congressional back-benchers and resigned governors who don’t do much more than pander to the lunatics and who think that carrying a loaded semi-automatic weapon to a presidential appearance is what makes America great.

And even if a leader or a potential presidential candidate emerges in the next year or so, whoever he or she is will have to do a lot more than just articulate what they are against. That’s easy; anyone can do that. The hard part is coming up with more than just No; you have to come up with an alternative. Otherwise, all it is is complaining, and that’s not leadership. Besides, when your stated goal is to do nothing but defeat the incumbent president for no other reason than to “break him,” it makes it very hard to persuade voters that you want what’s best for them.