Two anecdotes

I’ve had so many things on my mind relating to cluster known as the 2010 midterms, but today two independent things, small and insignificant, really brought home to me what happened to the Democrats this year.

First off, coming home from work I had an envelope in the mail addressed to me.  It lists “President Barack Obama” and “Democratic Headquarters” as the sender and has in big letters, “Deadline: October 29”  Note, today is November 3, the day after the election.

Naturally it’s asking me for money to help with the final days of the election.

“A day late and a dollar short” goes a long way toward how the Obama administration has governed, and particularly in how it is managing its relations with the base.

Next anecdote, I was sitting in the jacuzzi at the gym after working out this evening and there were several elderly gentlemen speaking about yesterday’s election and a couple of them were just droolingly upset about Obamacare, knowing their pensions and health care are being taken away from them, etc.  I tried to engage them for a few minutes, but it really was futile.  They have been fed a lot of nonsense by opportunists trying to scare them and sell them stuff.  It didn’t matter what the facts were, they were scared and livid and by damn, they voted.

It’s easy to talk about how the Democrats have squandered Howard Dean’s work with the Fifty State Strategy.  It’s easy to talk about how independent thinkers and donors and doers have been discouraged in an attempt to centralize and micromanage.  It’s easy to talk about how the White House strategy is too timid, too aloof, and too willing to compromise.  It’s been done before, and how it’s not speculation, we know the result.

A day late, a millions of dollars short, and the agenda up for grabs for the next two years.  Why were the Republicans allowed to control terms of debate?  A dispirited base has consequences, letting the teabaggers lie through their teeth and outright make things up without challenge has consequences.

  1. The 2008 electorate was 74% white, plus 13% black and 9% Latino. The 2010 numbers were 78, 10 and 8. So it was a considerably whiter electorate.
  2. In 2008, 18-to-29-year-olds made up 18% and those 65-plus made up 16%. Young people actually outvoted old people. This year, the young cohort was down to 11%, and the seniors were up to a whopping 23% of the electorate. That’s a 24-point flip.
  3. The liberal-moderate-conservative numbers in 2008 were 22%, 44% and 34%. Those numbers for yesterday were 20%, 39% and 41%. A big conservative jump, but in all likelihood because liberals didn’t vote in big numbers.

The fall of in young and minority voters can’t be understated.  Yes, Sharon Angle is a moron, but Harry Reid will remain a US Senator because he got 90% of the Latino vote.  Nearly comparable  numbers have been reported in California and Colorado which were also relative bright spots for Democrats.

Polls showed before and after the vote that people like Republicans less than Democrats.  They voted for them anyway.  The election was the Democrats’ to lose, and lose they did.

But there are some bright spots.  Yes we had help from the Tea Party, but the Senate held.  Many of the worst of the worst Tea Party candidates lost.  Sarah Palin’s endorsements turned out to be less than golden.

Better still, the remaining House Democrats are, in fact, better Democrats overall.  And Senate Democrats, being farther from the “magical” sixty, are less dependent on individual senators to allow things to get done, perhaps making it more difficult for individual troublemakers to hold legislation hostage.  Time will tell, but there is cause to be cautiously optimistic for the next couple years.

Of course, there’s the down side….election 2012 is now underway.

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A “love” letter to Democrats

Some great thoughts reposted with permission courtesy of my friend Isaac Higham.  His remarks are directed specifically at the DADT debacle, but conceptually they apply throughout the Democratic agenda, such as it is – which is kind of the point.

My Dear Democrats,

Let me be frank: I’m pissed.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “I want my government back” tea party pissed.  I’m not upset because policies and changes aren’t moving fast enough for my liking. And I’m not even perturbed that you’re not as progressive as I—for I know that elections are won and governing coalitions are formed in the middle.  When I became a Democrat, I was proud to join the big tent party with a bounty of ideas.

No, I’m pissed because you are dropping the ball when you are called upon to defend the “us’es” from the barrage of Republican bullshit.

Stop letting Republicans divide the American people.

In 2004 when Bush and Rove divided the electorate with the marriage amendments across the country, Kerry said nothing.  When the Republicans divide America with their attacks on immigrants, Muslims, unionized labor and the middle class, the LGBT community, seniors and children, and all of the “us’es” hardly a peep is heard from Democrats calling them on their bullshit.  Oh sure, we battle them on the issues: immigration, religious freedom, marriage, and taxes, but we do not call them out on their calculated pitting of American versus American.

Yesterday, Republicans including John McCain outright LIED about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the Dream Act included as amendments to the Defense Authorization bill.

Their party blocked necessary aid for our troops (who are fighting wars THEY put them in), because they were more interested in being divisive over gays in the military and conditional pathways to citizenship for immigrants who serve in our armed forces and complete higher education.

All I heard in the aftermath was how “disappointed” we Democrats were that the Republicans let partisan politics block basic legislation the vast majority of Americans support.

Where are our “fierce advocates” we hear about every campaign season? Why do we not have more like Franken, Grayson, and Weiner who aren’t afraid to use their passion to call the Republicans on their divisiveness?

Where is the impassioned speech from my President forcefully declaring an immediate stop to the unconstitutional DADT policy and that Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for dividing Americans for partisan gain at the expense of what is best for the country and the American people?

I am a Liberal Progressive and a proud Democrat, but you still need to earn my vote—and right now you have a lot of work to do.  Grow a pair, stand up for the “us’es”, and then get back to me.

-Isaac Higham

Sirota on Colbert

David Sirota of Open Left appears on Colbert to promote his new book. He does well, but the best part was Colbert comparing him to Che Guevara – will college students wear his face while having no clue who he is or what he actually did? I was rolling on the floor last night at that one.

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Getting serious about diversity

Over the years it’s been pretty hard to be anything less than sneeringly derisive of the GOP’s view of itself as a “big tent” party. It’s been pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that the real big tent is found among the democrats, not just in terms of the party members themselves, but in the wide range of views and ideologies found in the mix. To be sure, there are factions and divisions within the Republicans – theocrats, libertarians, business,etc. But for all the whining and complaining outside in the hall, when it comes time to vote the GOP caucus has been held under remarkably tight discipline.

Why do I bring this up? There seems to be some concern among Democrats, now that we’re winning, that not all democrats are going to toe the “party line” as defined by the person making the criticism, who these days are usually progressives. As Digby summarizes:

There has been a lot of chatter over the week-end about the apparently startling notion that Democrats winning in conservative districts might produce more conservative Democrats.

Jason Rosenbaum expounds:

I do believe in Crashing the Gate’s political calculus. If we elect more Democrats, we will be more likely to pass progressive legislation. In the short term, that means ending the war, health care for all Americans, and a renewed investment in our economy and in green energy. Certainly, electing Republicans will do nothing to advance that agenda, but electing Democrats will only get you so far.

As the Times points out, we’ve elected some shockingly conservative Democrats in recent years.

I understand their concerns. Just as the Religious Wrong is shocked, shocked, to find that a majority of Americans don’t agree with their social agenda, the bottom line reality on the street is that while America is moving toward a Democratic majority – one we hope will be long lasting – that is not the same thing as a progressive majority. Even apart from progressivism, Matt Stoller observes that there are few avenues of support for liberals running as liberals.

I’m noticing a problem related to infrastructure, and that is that liberal candidates on a Federal level have no logistical support in either election or reelection contests. Blue Dogs only give to candidates who pledge to become Blue Dogs, and plenty of good Democrats and liberals are willing to help out Democrats in swing areas regardless of ideology. The DCCC and the DSCC help Democrats with a chance of winning House or Senate seats, and EMILY’s List helps women running for office with fundraising, mailers, field help, etc. NARAL, the AFL-CIO, and Moveon have criteria to help candidates as well, and VoteVets helps veterans. But if you are running as a liberal in an open seat, a primary, or a general election, there is no specific group to back you.

This is important, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle.

A few observations are in order. First off, the “L” word isn’t as powerful as it used to be. After decades of running away from the term “liberal,” democrats who embrace it do well both in primary challenges and in winning general elections and this is true even in traditionally Red districts such as the recent surprise victories in Mississippi and Louisiana. GOP operatives saturated the airwaves with cries of “San Francisco Values” and tied Cazayoux and Childers to Obama and Nancy Pelosi, and still got an electoral whuppin’ on election day. The lessons here are twofold: If your constituents know you, they’re not going to be afraid of the liberal boogeyman, and populist concerns will resonate with the folks back home, allowing candidates in marginal districts more confidence in doing what’s right.

If we are trying to build a lasting coalition, diversity of opinion and differences in approach aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes the GOP leadership ruled with an iron fist but that’s not the way to bring about good government. Politics is the art of the possible, the sharing of power and actually governing. We can do it better and it’s time to show what that really means.

Even from a progressive standpoint, all caucus members are important. Moderate Democrats who vote with you 60% or 70% of the time are going to get you a lot farther than “moderate” Republicans who vote with you 0% of the time. Moreover, they cast certain key votes – for a Democrat as speaker/majority leader and for Democrats as committee chairmen. With the majority you control the process and when you control the process you have exponentially more influence over what the legislation looks like.

But there’s still a lot of room for the “More and Better Democrats” call to action. The last couple cycles we’ve seen, for perhaps the first time, real primary challenges being made against conservative Democrats, and in many cases the challenges are quite reasonable. It’s fair to ask whether a conservative Democrat is truly representative of a bright, dark blue district, and to hold them accountable for indefensible votes they’ve made. For several years I’ve accused the congressional GOP of holding the lube while the Bush Administration systematically rapes the Constitution. This is true, but the extent to which the Bush Dog Democrats have enabled and provided a bi-partisan veneer to things is deplorable, and they deserve some hard questions. It becomes even more repugnant now, with Democrats in the majority, that things like retroactive immunity for telecom abuses are even on the table.

We really are poised at the brink of an historic election. It’s time to think strategically and pragmatically.