Old habits die hard. The media are so enamored of the continuing (and largely contrived) story about the great Republican civil war that they fail to appreciate that the real internecine fight is being waged on the other side of the aisle.
I grant that there’s a lot of shouting today among Republicans. But it’s a ritual skirmish over whether a government shutdown would force the president to withdraw a signature measure – last time, Obamacare; this time, executive amnesty.
And it will likely be resolved with the obvious expedient of funding the government through next year, except for a more short-term extension for homeland security. That way, defunding the executive order could be targeted to just the issue at hand, namely immigration, and would occur when the GOP holds the high ground – control of both houses of Congress.
It’s a tempest in a teapot, and tactical at that. Meanwhile, on the other side, cannons are firing in every direction as the Democratic Party, dazed and disoriented, begins digging itself out of the shambles of six years of Barack Obama.
The opening salvo was a National Press Club speech by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. It was an anti-Obama manifesto delivered three weeks after Election Day openly denouncing Obamaism, its policies and priorities. In essence: Elected with a mandate to restore the economy and address the anxieties of a stagnating and squeezed middle class, Obama instead attacked, restructured, reorganized and destabilized a health care system that was serving the middle class relatively well.
Eighty-five percent of Americans already had health insurance, argued Schumer. Yet millions have suffered dislocations for the sake of a minority constituency – the uninsured – barely 13 percent of whom vote.
This has alienated the Democrats’ traditional middle-class constituency. Indeed, in a 2013 poll cited by the New York Times’ Thomas Edsall, by a margin of 25 percent, people said Obamacare makes things better for the poor. But when the question was does it make things better “for people like you,” Obamacare came out 16 points underwater.
That’s how you lose elections, Schumer argues. And forfeit large chunks of the traditional Democratic coalition. Health care was not a crisis in 2009 (nor in 1993 when Hillarycare led to another Democratic electoral disaster); it was an ideological imperative for Obama and the liberal elites in charge of Congress.
As are Obama’s current cherished causes – climate change and amnesty for illegal immigrants. These are hardly the top priorities of a working middle class whose median income declined as much during the Obama recovery as during the Great Recession. This is how you end up losing 64 percent of the white working class – which, though shrinking, is almost 50 percent larger in size than the black and Hispanic electorates combined.
While Schumer lobbed artillery at Obama’s faculty-room liberalism, the left – through the progressive populism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. – kept up its fire on the party center. Warren is looking beyond Obama to Hillary Clinton, cozy as Clinton is (Schumer, too) with Wall Street, the bete noire of the party base.
From opposite sides of the (Democratic) spectrum, Schumer and Warren are trying to remake and reorient the Democratic Party post-Obama. So while Republicans are debating the tactics of stopping presidential lawlessness, Democrats are trying to figure out what they believe and whom they represent.
Which do you think is the more serious problem?
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.