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Should Democrats Get More Liberal or Conservative?

November 7, 2010

From this link:

On Friday morning, I had a somewhat contentious discussion onMorning Joe with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell regarding the criticism I wrote of his election-night comments.  Salon posted the video last night — it’s here for those who haven’t seen it — and there has been extensive commentary about it in other places.  There were issues raised by this dispute that are actually substantive and important, and some of them received some worthwhile attention, but by and large, O’Donnell’s refusal to cease speaking for any longer than a few seconds at a time — the standard form of adolescent cable-TV behavior — caused the segment to degenerate into one of those cable scream-fests which was ultimately more headache-inducing than enlightening.  I have a few comments to make about the substance of these issues — and O’Donnell has invited me on his show on Monday night to discuss them, though it’s unclear if the logistics will work out — but first there is one point I particularly want to highlight and address.

O’Donnell repeatedly insisted that I had attributed to him views that he did not actually express, and several times repeated that he said none of what I criticized him for saying; after the segment, he continued spouting that same accusation.  As I told him both during the segment and after, only the transcript will resolve that question, and — as I’ll demonstrate in a moment — it does.  First, here is the entirety of what I wrote about his remarks:

[A]lmost every time I had MNSBC on, there was Lawrence O’Donnell trying to blame “the Left” and “liberalism” for the Democrats’ political woes. Alan Grayson’s loss was proof that outspoken liberalism fails.  Blanche Lincoln’s loss was the fault of the Left for mounting a serious primary challenge against her.  Russ Feingold’s defeat proved that voters reject liberalism in favor of conservatism, etc. etc.

I wasn’t sitting in front of the TV watching MSNBC until numerous people started emailing me and alerting me on Twitter to the fact that O’Donnell was repeatedly blaming liberalism and the Left for the Democrats’ political problems.  That’s how I became aware of what O’Donnell was saying.  Beyond that, here is what Salon‘s Editor-in-Chief Joan Walsh wrote on election night, long before I wrote a word about any of this (I hadn’t read this until yesterday):

Strangely, I watched Democrats including MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell try to blame the blowout on whiny progressives.

If O’Donnell didn’t actually do that, he might want to ask himself why so many people think he did.  Did huge numbers of people simultaneously suffer a mass hallucination, or did his comments — spread out over the course of several hours that night — create the impression that this was precisely the point he was making?

I’ve now been able to obtain the videotape and transcript of that evening, and here (with links to the video)  is what O’Donnell actually said regarding the three Democratic losses I referenced — Grayson, Lincoln and Feingold:

Re: Grayson, after Olbermman announced his loss:

O’DONNELL: He was also considered a test case by many liberals making the argument that Democrats made the mistake of going too far to the middle.  Alan Grayson went very clearly to the left, and it didn’t work in his district.

Re: Lincoln, after NBC projected her the loser:

O’DONNELL:  Ed, it’s Lawrence O’Donnell. I want to ask you more about Blanche Lincoln.  In retrospect, does it look wise to have challenged Blanche Lincoln in a primary and weakened her, if that’s what happened, given that she, in fact, did not fight health care all the way?  She was a member of the Senate Finance Committee. She voted for the Senate Finance Committee bill. She was one of the pro-choice votes in the Senate Finance Committee, where not all Democrats voted for the pro-choice components of that health care bill.

She, in fact, helped it get out on to the Senate floor. She, in fact, helped it pass on the Senate floor. She did all that. And it was judged not enough by liberals who wanted to take her out in the primary.


O’DONNELL: They failed. They left a wounded nominee . . . . We may have elected in West Virginia a vote in favor of repealing the Obama health care bill, which Blanche Lincoln enabled to be legislated.

Re:  Feingold, after Matthews asked why he lost:

MADDOW:  The situation is that Russ Feingold never earned the loyalty of his party because he was so iconoclastic, he went his own way, he made principled votes on things like the Patriot Act   .  .  . he never earned any national favor from anyone but progressives  . . . . . he’s against someone who has a ton of outside help and a ton of money.  He just didn’t have anyone supporting him because the national party just never backed him up.

O’DONNELL:   What does this have to do with the argument that’s going on inside the Democratic Party between progressives and others about how Democrats should run? Did Russ Feingold lose because he wasn’t liberal enough? . . . . When we talk about money in races, we have to face the fact that it’s not the full explainer that everyone thinks it is.  If money beat Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, why isn’t it beating Jerry Brown in California?  . . . ..

This is about real candidates, this is about real positions they’ve taken, especially if they’re incumbents, like Russ Feingold, and to pretend that voting on Russ Feingold has nothing to do with his voting as an incumbent I think is to ignore the reality of life on the ballot as a Democrat in Wisconsin.. . . .

MADDOW:  If you really believe he could have campaigned his way out of this race, I’d love to hear how he could have campaigned differently in a more effective way, but I just don’t see it.

O’DONNELL:  A liberal was defeated by a Republican — by voters who had information about this one being a liberal, this one being a Republican. We have to then assume the voters are completely irrational and don’t know what they are doing, or we assume that they do know the difference between a liberal and a Republican and they made that choice, based on his being a liberal and him being a Republican, money being whatever it was in that situation.

At times, O’Donnell phrased these views in the form of rhetorical questions and, in the Wisconsin discussion specifically, disclaimed certainty about why Feingold lost, but the remarks that he made as quoted above leave no doubt as to his point.  I’m more than content to have anyone compare the summary which I wrote of his remarks to what he actually said.  What I wrote was completely accurate.  His meaning could not have been clearer, which is why so many people understood it exactly that way.

As for the substance of our discussion, O’Donnell — in standard cable TV form — basically had one simplistic point he repeated over and over:  exit polls show that only a small minority of voters (a) self-identify as “liberal” and (b) agree that government should do more.  There are so many obvious flaws in that “analysis.”  To begin with, exit polls survey only those who vote; it excludes those who chose not to vote, including the massive number of Democrats and liberals who voted in 2006 and 2008 but stayed at home this time.  The failure to inspire those citizens to vote is, beyond doubt, a major cause of the Democrats’ loss (see the first reason listed by CBS News for why the Democrats lost:  “The Democratic Base Stayed Home“).  Alienating your own base by moving to the Right via Blue Dog dependency is obviously a bad electoral tactic for Democrats, and O’Donnell’s little stat does nothing to negate that; to the contrary, it bolsters that point, since the Democratic base of 2006 and 2008 stayed at home this year.  O’Donnell’s fixation on those who voted, while ignoring those who chose not to vote, necessarily excludes a major factor in the Democrats’ loss.

The rest of the piece can be found here:

Watch the video below:

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Should Democrats Get More Liberal or Conservative?, posted with vodpod
One Comment leave one →
  1. November 8, 2010 8:49 pm

    They should get more Democratic, which means Demos, which means of the people, which means identifying with people out of work or struggling to get by in hostile economic conditions, which means an evaluation, or a revaluation, or everything Democrats value, which means a better, brighter, more responsive party.

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