[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/12/08/art.getty_obamacu.jpg]Editor's note: John P. Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for The Daily Beast. He is the author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America." The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of John Avlon.
The fault lines beneath the Democratic Party have been rumbling between the left and the center. Now with President Obama's compromise on the Bush taxes, they threaten to erupt entirely.
But it's just the newest chapter of an old fight, and despite the liberal base's fury, it's evidence that Obama is trying to re-center himself before the 2012 elections.
One of the strangest signs of our political times is that while the far right considers Obama a socialist, the far left thinks he's a corporate sellout. Of course, he can't be both. But this distorted view disproportionately dominates our political debates. And long before Frank Rich joined the liberals' dumping on Obama by diagnosing him as suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome" at the hands of his Republican captors this weekend, the left has been saying that the problem with the president is that he's too centrist.
This goes back to the '08 campaign. Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman took early aim at Obama, saying, "I find it a little bit worrisome if we have a candidate who basically starts compromising before the struggle has even begun." Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas extended the narrative from the netroots by saying that Obama might be one of those "spineless Democrats who are ... afraid of controversy."
To the left, these concerns have been validated by Obama's recent tax cut compromises. But even during the liberal high-water mark of successfully fighting for health care reform attempted by Democratic presidents since Truman, Obama was being attacked by the left for not steadfastly supporting a public option.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/30/c1main.militia.01.hutaree.com.jpg caption="Members of Michigan militia are charged with conspiring to kill law enforcement officers." width=300 height=169]
John P. Avlon
Special to CNN
At least 10 death threats have been leveled against members of Congress since the health care vote. Windows at four district offices or county party headquarters have been shattered with bricks.
A gas line was severed at the home of the brother of one Democratic congressman from Virginia, and a man was arrested for making death threats against Republican Minority Whip Eric Cantor and his family.
And Monday, nine members of a Michigan-based anti-government militia group called the Hutaree were charged with conspiring to kill law enforcement officers.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/03/art.cantor1.cnn.jpg caption="Rep. House Leader Eric Cantor reported bullets fired at his offices after the health care vote."]
In the wake of the health care vote, we’ve seen an escalation of angry rhetoric and actions, fueling this week’s wingnuts to ugly new heights of incitement.
At least ten members of the House of Representatives received death threats this week while Republican House Leader Eric Cantor reported that bullets had been fired at his district offices in Virginia. Four local Democratic Party offices and district congressional offices had their windows broken with bricks.
All this follows the online exhortations of militia leader Mike Vanderboegh, who wrote on his blog this past Friday: “If we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.”
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/13/john.avlon.art.jpg caption="CNN independent analyst John Avlon says partisanship is trumping principle and eclipsing patriotism in government." ]
Special to CNN
This week, Washington combined high stakes poker and parliamentary procedures with health care reform in the balance. And despite more than a year of heated debate, the American people remain deeply divided on the issue – the only thing they seem to agree on is that D.C. is dysfunctional. A new poll shows Congress with a 17% approval rating.
Part of the reason is an epidemic of situational ethics: politicians reversing supposedly principled stands depending upon whether or not their party is in power.
The most egregious example is support for reconciliation – a measure to ensure an up-or-down vote, bypassing the threat of a filibuster. Republicans have lately been conflating reconciliation with the closely related, controversial (and conveniently scary-sounding) “nuclear option.”
When Larry King asked Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, “what’s wrong with majority rules?” on LKL earlier this week, she replied: “Because that's not how the Senate works. The Senate works with 60 votes. And now, what the president is promoting is a nuclear option, which is 50 votes.”
But the so called “nuclear option” was invoked 5 years ago by Republicans when they accused Democrats of blocking President Bush’s judicial nominations via filibuster.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/26/t1.capitol.snow.jpg caption="" width=300 height=169]
John P. Avlon
Special to CNN
Today's bipartisan health care meeting is being called a summit, a term that brings to mind diplomatic missions during wartime. That's a fitting description for the atmosphere in Washington. Political opponents are considered enemies.
Health care is just the latest example of government dysfunction; it's been derailed by hyper-partisanship, over-spending and the disproportionate influence of special interests.
Independent voters, the largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate, hold the balance of power in American politics, but they have once again been shut out of the debate. The professional partisans in Washington ignore them at their peril.
Many Americans associate broken government with the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina and the anxieties that accompany the current manic recession. But the roots of independent voters' frustration go deeper.
The Daily Beast
Programming Note: John Avlon will appear on tonight's AC360°
They think you're stupid.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/25/art.getty.rush.limbaugh.jpg caption="Rush Limbaugh ranks on Avlon's list of Washington saboteurs."]
Ninety-three percent of Americans believe that Washington is too partisan, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll taken one month ago.
That's not a subtle message. Ninety percent of Americans rarely agree on anything—60 percent is a landslide mandate in elections. But the professional partisans and pundits in Washington have been falling over themselves arguing that bipartisanship is a fool's game as of late. They insist that Americans must get more sophisticated when it comes to the ways of Washington and embrace the town's bitter and predictable partisanship as both wise and inevitable.