Paul Fanlund is editor and publisher of The Capital Times. A longtime Madisonian, he was a State Journal reporter and editor before becoming a vice president of Madison Newspapers. He joined the Cap Times in 2006.

Obama Buttigieg mashup

Criticisms of Barack Obama and Pete Buttigieg as insufficiently combative are arrogant and counterproductive.

The stylistic and ideological rift between Democratic camps is clearly deep and dangerous.

Last month, employing my best kumbaya tone, I highlighted the many ways in which the party’s far left and more moderate camps fundamentally agree.

The two are on the same page, I wrote, on the need to combat climate change and wealth disparities, to embrace health care as a right and confront unresolved issues around race and gender, to regulate firearms and enact compassionate immigration policies, and, more generally, to see government not as a “swamp” but as a force to improve the lives of ordinary Americans.

Today I am less sanguine. As a left-of-center pragmatist, I have wearied of the self-righteousness of many on the far left who apparently see themselves as smarter and more courageous than the rest of us.

There it was again Sunday, on the front page of the New York Times, an article framing the Democratic presidential contest as one between the “pugilists” and the “peacemakers.”

In it, pragmatists are maligned as “too cautious, naïve and quick to assume good will from Republicans.” One far-left journalist even told the Times that pragmatists mistakenly see the path to beating Donald Trump as embracing a “form of corrupt passivity.”

One especially outrageous theme is the notion that pragmatists are less passionate in their dislike — no, make that hate — for everything Trump has wrought.

Most pragmatists hold Trump and his Republican enablers in as much contempt as the most shrill and combative on the far left. Just because Joe Biden said he thinks he could work across the aisle as president like he did as a senator in another century doesn’t mean most pragmatists agree.

This idea that Democrats must be led by an Elizabeth Warren or a Bernie Sanders or an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fighting the big fights and not, as Warren likes to say, nibbling around the edges, is nonsense.

Just how do Democrats benefit from bigger margins in places like the Bronx and Queens, which AOC represents in Congress, if Trump slips into a second term thanks once more to narrow margins in Ohio, Pennsylvania and, yes, Wisconsin?

Do you really think some strident AOC-type politician could have ended the Scott Walker nightmare in Wisconsin the way Tony Evers — a moderate — managed to do? Evers is now pushing all sorts of progressive buttons, but you know what? He first had to actually win an election in a 50-50 state.

Now we even have the far left social media crowd lambasting Barack Obama for extolling the merits of intelligent pragmatism in the presidential campaign.

Obama told donors recently: “I don’t think we should be deluded into thinking that the resistance to certain approaches to things is simply because voters haven’t heard a bold enough proposal and if they hear something as bold as possible then immediately that’s going to activate them. People rightly are cautious because they don’t have a lot of margin for error.

“This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement,” Obama added. “They like seeing things improved, but the average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

The far left pounced, which one can understand, given that many of its members apparently regard their own political acumen as superior to that of the twice-elected former president.

The “On Politics” column in the New York Times reported how “Mr. Obama got a resounding chorus of ‘O.K. boomer’ from liberal activists, who questioned his record on issues like health care, climate change and immigration.”

While Obama appears unbothered by such critiques, I was astonished at the arrogance of these Twitter Democrats.

Oh, if only these social media critics could have been in White House strategy sessions a decade ago when Obama got the historic Affordable Care Act passed. Their passion and stridency would have yielded something far better, right?

David Axelrod, the former Obama strategist, told the Times that the size of this far left contingent may be exaggerated: “I think sometimes the populist left is overrepresented in places where reporters sometimes spend a lot of time, like on Twitter.”

Political reporters, drawn to covering campaigns through the prism of conflict, have predictably been shining a hostile spotlight on Pete Buttigieg, whose pragmatic presidential candidacy has surged as he talks of being eager to turn to governing and healing a deeply divided nation following the election.

A Buttigieg campaign ad targeted pledges by Warren and Sanders for free tuition at public colleges and universities. “I believe we should move to make college affordable for everyone,” Buttigieg says in the ad, adding later, “But I only want to make promises that we can keep.”

That brought a stinging Twitter rebuke from Ocasio-Cortez, who has endorsed Sanders: “This is a GOP talking point used to dismantle public systems, & it’s sad to see a Dem candidate adopt it.”

Yes, it’s a travesty when a politician dares to distinguish between a pipedream and the best case for progress in a deeply divided nation.

And what about those drawn to Buttigieg’s practical and non-hysterical style? It must be because they are old.

A recent New York Times story explored his appeal among older white Iowa Democrats under the snide headline: “O.K. Mayor: Why the 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg is attracting boomers.” The article, by a young reporter, portrayed Iowa Democrats as liking Buttigieg mostly because they find him, well, sort of cute and unthreatening.

“He reminds everyone of their favorite grandson,” one prominent Democrat said. Another said: “I have to think that some older voters see Pete as the son they’d want to have — very smart, respectful of traditional institutions like the church and the military, and relentlessly cheerful and optimistic about what America can be.”

Oh, and here was the closing quote by another Democrat: “He reminds us a ton of our son.”

Might there be an explanation not tied to such tired generational stereotyping?

Many, I suspect, regard Buttigieg not only as smart but also the most charismatic and nuanced among the candidates — agile on his feet when unscripted in the way Obama was and is.

He doesn’t yell and wave or try at every turn to prove himself the most pugnacious, which, I gather, is a big disappointment to some.

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