Robert Reich has a pretty smart piece about the overall weakness of progressive movement politics, but he raises one issue that I think needs to be examined more closely:
First, the Republican base keeps the heat on after elections so Republican officeholders accomplish what they promise and are less likely to compromise in the first place. The Republican base fueled the Reagan and George W. Bush tax cuts and penalized George H.W. Bush only after he reversed his “read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes.
There are about 300 million people in the United States of America. So lots of us consider our policy positions to be well to the left of the Obama/Reid/Pelosi policy agenda (though we perhaps recognize that this agenda is framed with objective political constraints in mind and may not reflect private preferences) and we can even form feisty communities of people who think this way. But as a recent Pew survey showed ideological self-identification as liberal is not that common even among self-identified Democrats:
Indeed, if you compare self-identified Democrats to “all voters” you’ll see that the difference in self-perception of ideological positioning is actually smaller than the difference in perceptions of where Democrats are ideologically located. The asymmetry between self-identified Democrats and self-identified Republicans isn’t that the Republican base “keeps the heat on” whereas the Democratic base doesn’t. It’s more that self-identified Democrats tend to regard themselves as only slightly left of center and get a party whose ideological positioning self-identified Democrats think is fine.