Liberalism

Last night, as a follow up to their angry exchange on Joe Scarborough‘s Morning Joe, Laurence O’Donnell hosted Glenn Greenwald on The Last Word. As they both noted and were glad have be the case, it was a much more civil exchange. I’ll make several points before the video.

First, the original exchange transpired in the manner it did, unlike last night’s, because rather than respectfully disagreeing in a savvy discussion of pure politics, which is what happened on The Last Word, Greenwald, in the post on his blog that precipitated the Morning Joe argument, had, as is his want, contemptuously misrepresented O’Donnell’s words on election night and O’Donnell himself as a cable news hack.

Second, Greenwald made the essential point that Democrats during the campaign had lacked a coherent message. They lacked a coherent message because they ran away, as Democrats often do these past thirty post-Reagan years, from the good liberal policies they had enacted and pursued. Greenwald contended not that liberals should have run more notably as liberals, but more pointedly on their liberal policies. That distinction, which is reasonable, if not necessarily the correct strategy, is where the contention with O’Donnell arose.

O’Donnell believes the Blue Dog Democrats serve a purpose, as much as they infuriate their liberal fellow Democrats. While Greenwald extolled what he thinks the more purely liberal Democratic-controlled congresses before 1994, O’Donnell pointed out that none of them were ever able to pass health reform bills; it was a Democrat-controlled congress with a significant number of Blue Dogs that did. Greenwald had argued on Morning Joe that it was the liberals who retained their seats in this election and the Blue Dogs who lost them. O’Donnell had responded pretty unarguably, that the victorious liberals had run in clearly liberal districts while the Blue Dogs, in an anti-incumbent, anti-Obama, anti-Democrat (I won’t say anti-liberal) year, had run in swing districts, where liberals would have lost even more surely. Alan Grayson and Russ Feingold ran as liberally as a liberal might hope. They lost. This had been O’Donnell’s point.

Greenwald’s insight was that Democrats need to run fearlessly on the policy prescriptions they endorse because they are, labels aside, what most American actually do want.

O’Donnell’s insight is that Democrats need to run, strategically, district by district, which will produce Blue Dogs. He also ended the segment with his essential West Wing paean to liberalism, as the great label of the nation’s grandest achievements. It is conservatism that drags behind it the legacy of shame.

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