There’s a lot to like and a lot to dislike in Matt Stoller’s call for progressives to try to dump President Obama in 2012, but the punchline is really puzzling:
When taking state candidates into account, the 1894 midterm elections were comparable to the 2010 wipeout; Cleveland was disliked so ardently that party leaders pushed him out of running for reelection. Instead the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan, who introduced many populist themes into the party and began the ideological transformation that would culminate with the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.
Like Scott Lemieux, I feel like it’s a mistake to just yadda yadda yadda through 38 years of American history here. Taking action in 2012 with a hoped-for political payoff in 2050 ignores an awful lot of stuff that can happen in the interim. You sometimes hear that Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign worked out in the end because ultimately the conservative movement wound up changing the face of America. And so it did, but not to the point of repealing the stuff congress enacted in 1965-66. Realistically, the best chance to change American politics is to win a bunch of elections in a row. It worked for FDR and Truman. It worked for for Nixon, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush with only a brief stint of Jimmy Carter in between. But it’s hard to pull off.
(Incidentally, the “populist themes” of the 1932 Democratic Party are very much a mixed bad; there’s populism in there including calls for “an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance to accomplish a saving of not less than twenty-five per cent in the cost of the Federal Government,” a balanced budget, and “a sound currency to be preserved at all hazards.”)