The real civil war in US politics

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: 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 fireworks began even before Election Day with pre-emptive backstabbing of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, by fellow Democrats. This was followed after the electoral debacle by bitter sniping between Obama and Harry Reid when Reid’s chief of staff immediately — and on the record — blamed the results on Obama. In turn, Obama got his revenge last week by sabotaging a $450 billion “tax extender” deal that Reid had painstakingly negotiated.

But the Democrats’ civil war goes far beyond the petty and the personal. It’s about fundamental strategy and ideology. The opening salvo was Sen. Chuck Schumer’s National Press Club speech, 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. Moreover, for whites, whose support for Democrats hemorrhaged in 2014, 63 percent thought Obamacare made things worse for the middle class.

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 Barack Obama and the liberal elites in charge of Congress — their legacy contribution to the welfare state.

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.

The underlying Schumer challenge is that catering to coastal elites and select minorities 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 Elizabeth Warren’s progressive populism — 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. Which is why Clinton actually said: “Don’t let anybody tell you that, you know, it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs” — a stupendously clumsy attempt to parry Warren by parroting her.

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 — an inherently difficult congressional undertaking, particularly if you still control only a single house — Democrats are trying to figure out what they believe and who they represent.

Which do you think is the more serious problem?

© 2014, The Washington Post Writers Group

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9 Comments

  1. The reason Obamacare is not so papopular is because Obama did not go all the way. Obama’s tenure is actually successful in term of stabilizing the US economy & pointed it in the right direction. What they failed to do was walk on eggshells. Afraid of antagonising Wallstreet and birthers on the right & the minorities & liberals on the other side. He ended up with a half-baked Obamacare, extreme anti-immigration regulations, patchy foreign relations.
    He is what he is half-white & half-black so he tries to appease both sides.
    But in the end one can not get your cake and eat it too. One has has to make a stand. These is what people expect from their leader. He should have got rid of the hangers on in Obamacare – the insurance companies. They should have pushed & pushed until they got single-payer. 2nd he should have been more tough with the Republicans by using “extreme measures” – close the money tap – that would have gotten their attention. With that he could have gotten & passed a better Immigration Bill. 3rd he should have called-in back the ‘dogs of war’. Becaus eof the CIA & State Department, they have destroyed the economies of a dozen african/middle eastern states, riled Russia & set the stage for a 3rd world war. He should hav eused executive authority to started a new “Great American Rebuilding Program”. No he lost focus on the trees instead of the forest.
    Now the blacks are angry with him, the Hispanis are pissed of with him, the Asians are pissed off with him, the Whites are pissed off with him and his own party is pissed off with him.
    All of these people forget that he rescued them & their economy from the bottomless pit.

    • the public who enrolled are not unhappy, they are happy. Except for a few republicans who were able to enroll, they benefit from the plan and still attack obamacare. We are almost the last country to have this kind of coverage for the public. Look all over Europe, Canada, Australia, they have this in place for a long time, When America wanted to do good for the public, blame the president who did it. If you do good, you will have more enemies. And what single payer are you talking about? In healthcare underwriting, a company’s personnel all share the cost for the health coverage. That is how you lower the premiums, by doling out a few pennies extra to help those who have serious medical conditions. Reverse it, if you happen to be the one with serious conditions and was denied coverage, wouldn’t you shout allejah when you get coverage and not for a ridiculous price? I am one of those people who calculate how much premium a person or family will pay, and I know many who needed help but were denied. and these republicans are mostly Christian with Christian values! You don’t live the way your god lived

    • Frank A. Tucker on

      Obama and his left wing ultra liberal socialist ilk would have poured the USA down the drain into the sewer of socialist ruin & depravity if it were not for the Conservative Republican ‘RIGHT’ that stopped him from doing so.

      Obama is a socialist of the lowest order supported, schooled, and backed by the Communist Party.

  2. Charles Krauthammer is a standard right wing hatchet man propaganda mouthpiece. Fox News is a Rupert Murdoch piece of schlock that is in lockstep with the pirates ripping off the US for everything they can. They offer no feasible solutions and do their best to vilify the people who are working to make our system better. The Affordable Care Act while not perfect if implemented completely is designed to stabilize health care in the US for all citizens. The pirates that Krauthammer speaks for want to continue increasing their profits by keeping the healthcare system in unmanageable chaos as they have been for the last two decades.

  3. The real civil war in the U.S. is between the fascist government ( the ultra rightist neo-cons of both republican and democrat parties) and the american people.

  4. If America goes down what is the use of staying there even if you become an American citizen given by Obama who is turning his country or has done so already into an obamanation,ooops,I mean abomination.
    And that is besides making the world less safe from countries like China and Russia as well as the violent Islamists movements like Isil,Al Queda and here at home the Abu Sayyaf.
    I always watch and listen to the tv very intently everytime Charles Krauthammer speaks because he is honest and straighttalking not politically correct just to please liberal people.I wish we had an intellectual like him in our country where almost all intellectuals are left leaning.

  5. I wish the philippines had just one person like charles. He is a regular on fox news & he is brilliant. I would vote for him for president if i were an american. He is an intellectual who tells you exactly as it is. No spin no tarting up just very plain & simple. Now before those last elections you had philnews.com who are based in the us & its run by filipinos ( obviously ) & they were telling all filipinos to vote democrat. There you have what is wrong with this country, the people want whats best for them not the country. Obama is ruining the us, their national debt is now over $18 trillion dollars, yes you read it right $18 trillion, & rising & yet these filams tell you to vote obama probably because he wants to give amnesty to so many illegals & they know it will help so many illegal filipinos, it wont help america but it will help illegal fill- ams. So as i said they are for themseles & their fellow country men not their adopted country. & its thinking like that in your own country that has kept it where it is, at the bottom of the pile.

    • In other words these FIlams only look at one corner of a picture and say that is a very pretty picture, instead of looking at the entire picture. Might it say something about their intelligence? Who knows.

    • That’s pretty normal human reaction. Basic Instinct tells you to survive first and think of the rest later.