Obama’s ‘Harriet Miers’ Moment?: The Coming Liberal Civil War

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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“Even as they publicly condemn Tea Party Republicans as hostage-taking legislative thugs, the truth is that some Democrats are quietly jealous of them,” wrote Bill Scher at Politico Magazine Monday. “Think of it,” he continued, “The Tea Party gang gets to intimidate party leaders, threaten legislation, block nominees, shut down the government and default on the debt if they don’t get their way. They cause major trouble.”

That was just a few days ago. Since then, Scher’s article has only proven more prescient as liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (as the Boston Herald writes) “turned her guns on her own party — targeting even her top ally, President Obama.”

The Herald is, of course, referring to the populist revolt launched against a budget package supported by President Barack Obama and the Republican leadership — a rebellion which could trigger a government shutdown. (For what it’s worth, Warren may have some legitimate concerns about derivatives.)

The larger question is whether or not this is a harbinger of things to come. And most people I talk to tend to believe it is. On one hand, I’m surprised to see this development. Democrats have looked mature and disciplined these last few years, especially compared to the divided Republicans. Why mess with a winning formula?

On the other hand, many of the same societal and institutional trends which have led to the rise of scorched-earth, right-wing populism — and more broadly, the right’s “civil war” — are bipartisan in nature. These irritations tend to go dormant while a party has the presidency, but they never really go away. As such, this seems to be a cyclical, and thus, predictable development for a lame duck president.

The GOP looked pretty united, too — for much of George W. Bush’s presidency. Republicans generally went along with his plans, fearful of repercussions involved with upsetting Cheney and Rove and Co. Likewise conservative opinion leaders mostly looked the other way regarding the administration’s “big government” transgressions. 9-11 surely had something to do with this, but there was also sense that Bush was already getting beaten up by the left, and so it just wasn’t appropriate for conservatives to pile on from the right.

And then… the Harriet Miers nomination came along. And you started to see defections. At this point, defending Bush seemed both a fool’s errand and unnecessary, since a). he wasn’t defending himself well and b). he wouldn’t be on the ballot again. You started to see the rise of intellectual honesty and independence on the right. And this was dangerous, because once someone sees they can get away with disloyalty, and (gasp!) nothing happens, they are emboldened. Once you get away with disobeying, it becomes easier to do a second time…a third time. And then, all hell breaks loose. (Anyone else remember the Dubai ports deal?)

Could it be that Barack Obama and the left have finally had their Harriet Miers moment? Could it be that after six years of being good soldiers, holding their noses and taking their medicine, the left has finally stopped carrying water for a guy who can’t get re-elected again?

Bill Scher and I discuss, below: