This article was first published for U.S. News & World Report, under the title “Time for a Tea Party of the Left”.
WASHINGTON – Here we are at the beginning of Pres. Obama’s reelection and what do we find? The Bush tax cuts that, back in 2008, candidate Obama pledged he’d fight to repeal, but which as president he extended. Considering not extending them began as his base position, three years into his first term it’s not too much to ask how Democrats allowed themselves to get twisted into this policy pretzel.
That’s exactly where Obama’s got his Democratic and progressive base, which has absolutely no resemblance to the Tea Party, who began challenging the Republican establishment back during George W. Bush’s term. The efforts finally ended up making history in 2010, with state legislatures across the country went Republican. It started an assault on the middle class, unions, as well as a war on women’s freedoms that ended up turning Wisconsin and Ohio upside down, but boy did it change the debate.
Now Newt Gingrich, once a speaker of the House, is running on an anti-establishment, anti-Washington platform spouting Tea Party populism as the new change message. In South Carolina, Newt sang the Tea Party’s tune and the right wing base rewarded him with a win, leaving the establishment mouths agape.
Where’s the Democratic version of the Tea Party? You’d think after Obama’s anti-progressive economics, foreign policy, and adoption of Bush antiterrorism policies (though to a more methodically lethal, anti-progressive effect), the Democratic base would have taken the Tea Party template and run with it by now.
Obama got away with the healthcare plan, which was bargained behind closed doors with private insurance and drug companies, manifesting a product that hasn’t kept costs down. He negotiated with himself, as he did on the stimulus, instead of using the majority he had in Congress to press the case for a public option that would have tackled healthcare costs, our biggest foe. It was never considered.
When Obama recently decided not to relax restrictions on the emergency contraceptive Plan B, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi gave him a pass, while the Colorado Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette, a member of the so called “Pro-Choice Caucus,” stated she was “disappointed.” There are never any repercussions for such decisions on the left, while repercussions have defined the Tea Party and its power on the right.
Understand that Plan B has nothing to do with abortion. It simply makes a female’s womb inhospitable for implantation and has been found absolutely safe by the F.D.A. However, as an ode to independents in an election season, Obama made a decision that any Republican would have made.
But not to worry, a carrot wasn’t far behind. The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that universal contraceptive coverage will now be part of every employer healthcare plan, with religious-affiliated hospitals and institutions getting a one-year delay to comply. It could have been done earlier, but an election year is prime time.
During the debate around Bowles-Simpson, entitlement “reform” was broached first by Obama, with cost-of-living increases on Social Security being considered by the White House. That this would hit women hardest and put them in poverty was evidently missed by the administration. It was scuttled when all hell broke loose.
There wasn’t a woman in the room during the debt ceiling debate, a time when entitlement “reforms” were being considered. Pelosi was only added after women’s groups held a conference call and writers started complaining.
Obama also cut home heating assistance for the poor at a time when the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are in place.
During Obama’s first term, he’s sucked on the straw of cutting the deficit, while ignoring Democratic economics. The bully pulpit for progressive economics wasn’t used until re-election season, when he took to the stage at Osawatamie, Kan., channeling the Occupy Wall Street message while launching his 2012 campaign.
There’s the latest action on the Keystone XL Pipeline, at least a short-term win, but it’s not like he came out with gusto against it. Obama said no for now then blamed the Republicans for not giving him enough time to consider the environmental impact. Activists from the grass roots to Robert Redford applauded. We don’t even know if it’s a definite decision.
The Democratic base has a passive-aggressive relationship with Obama that resembles a dysfunctional love affair. He has all the power and the base has absolutely none, unless you count the gay and lesbian contingent which was as good a model as the Tea Party on how to get it done. It’s not that progressives couldn’t have power; it’s that they refuse to wield any.
So they cannot pressure Obama at election time because he knows his Democratic base will be there. After all, they’re not the Tea Party. It doesn’t matter if they’re unhappy, all that matters is he’s got their vote and he knows it.
Taylor Marsh is the author of the new book, The Hillary Effect – Politics, Sexism and the Destiny of Loss, which is now available in print on Amazon. Marsh is a veteran political analyst and commentator. She has been profiled in the Washington Post, The New Republic, and has been seen on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, as well as on radio across the dial and on satellite, including the BBC. Marsh lives in the Washington, D.C. area. This column is cross posted from her new media blog.