Editor's Note: Each week we repost an excerpt of Katrina vanden Heuvel's column on WashingtonPost.com.
"If only the czar knew," Russian peasants would tell themselves, "surely he wouldn't let his chief minister be so cruel." Progressive elation at the departure of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel brings this old Russian saying to mind. In reality, of course, the czar knew what was being done in his name. Emanuel has administered the president's preferences, not distorted them.
The question isn't how a new White House team will influence the Obama administration. The larger question is what conclusions the president will draw from the midterm elections and his first two years in office. Will he get over his frustration with the left and recognize that his political future depends on energizing progressives?
The White House seems mired in resentment. Vice President Biden tells liberals to "stop whining" and to get to work. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs strikes out at the "professional left," reflecting the White House's exasperation that the administration isn't getting credit for all that it has achieved.
One can only hope that Obama starts paying more attention to the small-"d" democratic mobilization last Saturday in Washington than the media did. The One Nation march witnessed the activist base of the Democratic Party rousing itself—union members in their colors, activists from the NAACP, MoveOn, environmental and gay rights groups, the women's movement. The marchers gloried in their diversity—the full rainbow of America in attendance, unlike the Wonder Bread crowd that Glenn Beck drew, shaming the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. The 10-2-10 marchers committed to mobilize through 11-2-10, the day of the mid-term election, and they returned home armed with voter contact lists.
If Democrats limit their losses in November—still a very big if—it won't be because of the war chests that the Democratic campaign committees were bragging about only weeks ago. Those are being trumped by the outsized outside expenditures of corporations and right-wing donors placing a big bet on a Republican revival.
No, if Democrats manage to retain control of the House and Senate, it will be because the "rising American electorate"—the minorities, single women and young people that represented a majority of voters in 2008 and voted overwhelmingly for Obama and Democrats—shows up in larger numbers than expected in November. And if they do come out, it will only be because the activist base of the party mobilized to get out the vote. And that will come not because of the White House's complaints, but because the base is increasingly alarmed at the Republicans' threat to repeal even modest reforms.
Pollsters and political pros get this basic reality wrong.
To read Katrina's full column, go to WashingtonPost.com.