Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Take On the Mass. Loss and the Way Forward

Everyone with a computer seems to have an opinion on what the election of Scott Brown two days ago in Massachusetts means for the country, the president, and the Democratic Party. I am of the opinion that this loss in MA proves that President Obama's obsession with finding middle ground, and being so willing to compromise with the Republicans and conservative Democrats, has failed. Even the president's most successful initiative so far - the stimulus package - was watered down so that a few so-called moderate Republicans would sign on. This has to stop.

The president was elected with a mandate for change. Unlike most conservatives, I have actually read Barack Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope. One of the most consistent themes in the book is Obama's insistence that the country move beyond the left-right/red-blue division that has poisoned our politics since the mid 90s (since the scorched earth politics created by Newt Gingrich and his Contract on America). He has always advocated finding a consensus position on nearly every issue. This sounds great, and there were many political independents who responded positively to this concept. The problem comes when there is no other side to compromise with. That is the situation the president has been living in since his inauguration, and I hope he is now seeing it.

Despite losing both houses of Congress in 2006, losing even more seats in 2008, and the country electing a Democrat as president in 08 with the largest electoral margin since 1984, the Republican party has acted as though the American people really support their failed agenda and ideas. But even if they don't really believe that, the party decided to take an approach that said that if they can block anything the president tries to do, the country will remain in as bad a shape as they left it, and Americans will look to the out of power party for help. That has been the Republican strategy for the last year -- if Obama is for it, we are against it. There have been no exceptions to this rule. Yet with the GOP nearly past tense, President Obama gave them a new lease on life by allowing them to have virtual veto power over his agenda. It is madness.

The strategy has been quite successful. Since the media refuses to ever ask a Republican a follow up question, the GOP (whose message machine has always been much better than the Dems) has been able to paint the president as unable to deliver on his promises. This ignores the fact that the Republicans have used the threat to filibuster more in the last year than it has been used in the last 40 years. Somehow, despite zero precedent, a party with control of both houses of Congress and the White House now needs a super majority to pass anything and everything. The Senate has never been held hostage by a minority party in this way before. It is literally strangling democracy to death.

With the opposition party publicly stating their goal is to destroy the president at all costs and on all fronts, the president is still trying to work with them. He has tried. It hasn't worked. It's time for a course correction.

President Obama's landmark election was not a mandate for bi-partisanship, or a request from the country to move rightward. It was support for a few very clear goals: end the war in Iraq, bring competence back to government, make economic policies that benefit more than the top 1-2%, and provide affordable health care to all Americans. This is what the people wanted. This is what the people voted for. If the country wanted a continuation of the Bush/Cheney/McConnell/Boehner/McCain policies, it would have voted that way. It didn't.

Instead, we got what I described above -- a constant give way to the other side. Just because some rabid, gun toting teabaggers don't want more affordable health care is no reason to ignore the vast majority who does. And just because the opposition party in Congress does not want to regulate and reign in Wall Street, that is no excuse to just let that concept go either. The reason the Democrats lost in Massachusetts and are polling badly nationwide is because they are NOT doing what they said they would. They are allowing the status quo to remain (with different faces) and refusing to take the tough action that the people elected them to take.

The "base" of the Democratic party in Massachusetts largely stayed home this week. Electing another milquetoast, middle of the road, consensus builder was deemed unworthy of their efforts. And despite a last minute rally with the president, nothing could be done to salvage the pathetic candidacy of Martha Coakley. She took the voters for granted and she took the party base for granted. Unfortunately, I fear the same thing is happening with the national Dems as well.

The huge Dem sweep in 08 was not just about electing someone with a "D" after his or her name. It was about changing the direction of the country for the better - not just changing who gets the chairmanship of some committee. Independents don't give a shit about committee assignments. They care about action. And, so far, the Democrats have been big on talk, but very light on action.

To win in 2010, the Democrats need to do a few things, in my opinion. 1) Abandon the notion that compromise is possible with the Republican party. 2) Ask Joe Lieberman to leave the Democratic caucus. 3) The president needs to channel his inner LBJ and push Congress to enact the agenda that got him (and them) elected. 4) Do not back down in the face of any criticism or bad polling data. Do what the American people elected you to do. 5) Fire Timothy Geithner. He is waaay too close to Wall Street, and his advice is damaging the administration. 6) Replace Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff. A West Wing shake-up is needed, and Emanuel has not been as effective as I had thought. 7) Embrace the base. They are what gets you elected.

The fact is, the American people support candidates for office who stand up for their beliefs, and reject candidates who have trouble clearly stating what those beliefs are. The reason Dems lost in 2000, 2002, and 2004 is because they were afraid to be Democrats. The party is a big tent, yes, but there are a few key concepts that one should support in order to call yourself a Democrat. Stating them over and over and acting on them once in office is a recipe for success. You will be rewarded by the American people if you state that you want to get something done, and you do it. But getting bogged down in poll-tested bullshit and compromising with saboteurs like Lieberman are getting the party and the country nowhere.

Barack Obama is a very smart man, and a very talented politician. He seems to be wary of hitting his opponents back despite the constant attacks from the other side, and he seems wary of leading Congress in the direction he wants them to go. Hence, the 11 month health care debacle. LBJ would have had that shit wrapped up last Spring.

President Obama's approval ratings are still above 50%, and he is by far the most popular and trusted person in American politics. Unfortunately, he is allowing the much less popular Congressional Democrats to bring him down to their level - instead of the other way around. Democrats need to follow his lead, and Obama needs to give them a leader to follow.

We need a change in direction, not in which party controls government. None of us wants to go back to the dark days of 2001-2007 again. Trust me.


Bryan said...

I really hope he does what you suggest. I hope he has it in him to move to a clear, even somewhat-progressive Democratic agenda and and I will be very pleasantly surprised if he does.

However, I don't see it in him, and I am not optimistic at this moment.

Dave Splash said...

Like I said, his politics are firmly rooted in centrism, so a move to the left is unlikely. But being more forceful about his agenda isn't a right vs. left thing.

He's still way more popular than congressional Republicans or Democrats, so he's in good shape. But, he needs to do something for the base to keep it motivated or some idiotic, Ralph Nader type will run against him from the left. We all know how horribly that worked out in 2000.

T. Paine said...

The ONLY things you said that made sense in that entire posting were that Obama should fire Geitner and Rham Emanuel.

Obama is a centrist?!? He may have campaigned as one, but the fact that his approval ratings are dropping like a stone is due to the fact that he is governing like a radical leftist. THAT is NOT what most of the voters thought they were getting. It is also why he will NOT be re-elected.

Further, I am curious what the hell you think he has EVER done to try and build consensus or encourage bipartisanship. Please give me an example!

Obama, and the congressional Democrats for that matter, only idea of consensus is that the right should abandon their ideas and agenda and sign on to the left's plan. Hardly what I would call an equitable compromise, sir.

Dave Splash said...

All I can say to you TP is watch something else besides Fox News. Really, your entire response is chock full of Karl Rove penned, Fox News repeated talking points about Obama and his so-called "radicalism."

You guys on the right don't even know where the center is anymore. You haven't seen the center since Gerald Ford! Obama's personal approval rating is still in the 50s, and the latest polls conducted on who do you trust more to run the country, Obama was far and away the winner (beating Congressional Dems and Republicans by more than 20 points).

Seriously, man, only extremist teabaggers and Rush Limbaugh see President Obama as a "radical." I hope you guys keep running on that. To your mind, anyone to the left of Jim Demint is a "radical leftist, socialist." That stuff is seriously played out, and it makes the right in this country look silly.

Radical is the judicial activism on display in the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court decision yesterday. That is one of the top 3 worst decisions ever handed down by the Court. It was not based on law or precedent -- it was based solely on right wing corporate ideology. Nothing more. If you don't agree, then I'm afraid you don't know what radical actually is.

The country is unhappy with the Dems for precisely the reasons I stated -- they did not forcefully push for Obama's agenda in Congress. Obama was an open book during the election, and the voters knew what they was NOT a return to Bush/Cheney as you so desperately want. No one but a tiny fringe wants to go back to Bush/Cheney. Welcome to the extreme right wing fringe, amigo.

Dave Splash said...

Oh, and as for examples of bi-partisanship, try the 1000s of amendments offered up by Republicans and voted on in every single piece of legislation this last year. Republicans have had ample opportunity to shape the legislation. Just because the amendments fail does not mean the effort wasn't there. And is the GOP really trying to be bi-partisan themselves? Why do they sit there and negotiate, get concessions from the administration, and then vote against the bill? That is called negotiating in bad faith, and it is the standard M.O. of the Republican party. Don't talk to me about bi-partisanship, when your party has as its stated goal the destruction of the president.

Obama has at least tried. The other side has made zero effort to move to the center and work with this president. If you read something else besides NewsMax, perhaps you'd have some facts on your side.

T. Paine said...

I will admit that the left is indeed upset with Obama for being seen as not "left enough" on issues. America in general, especially the all-important independents are leaving him in droves though because he is far left of the centrist he portrayed himself as.

I honestly hope Obama does tack to the left, and based on his angry rhetoric in Ohio today, I suspect he will. When he is thrown out of office in a land-slide because of this, I wonder what you all on the left will point to as the reason for that then.