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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Tom Tomorrow hits the nail on the head. I drive it in further.

Tom Tomorrow hits the nail on the head with his latest strip, The Sensible Liberal's Guide to Sensible Liberalism in the Age of Obama." I think one of his points could use some elaboration, however.

He satirizes "sensible liberals" as saying, "Either we politely overlook [Obama's] record on habeas corpus, rendition,...[etc., etc., etc] -- or Sarah Palin wins in 2012 -- guaranteed!" He properly derides this craven attitude, but doesn't explain why it's so very, very wrong.

Here are the political mechanics: When progressives protest Obama's not-so-progressive policies, the effect is to shift the axis of debate to the left. This makes Obama look more moderate by comparison with the protesters, and thereby helps him with the centrist "swing voters" in 2012. Call it the Martin/Malcolm effect, if you will.

To be sure, such protest may also allow (or push) Obama to adopt more progressive policies than he otherwise would have — but only to the extent that the shift in political climate that the protests have effected lets him do so without losing political ground. So the notion that the GOP's chances will be improved is completely baseless. Just the opposite is actually the case.

Great political thinkers have understood this principle. The father of modern liberalism, John Stuart Mill, for instance, was not a political socialist (although he did favor cooperatives). Yet he supported the socialist movement anyway, as he explained in his autobiography, because he saw that the fear of socialism was what would motivate the middle classes who held political sway to enact reform measures that he did support.

Principled progressives have no reason to fear that protesting Obama'a bad policies will help the Right. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

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