If President Obama wants to squander his presidency he should listen to folks like David Brooks and Evan Bayh
The punditocracy has been quickly at work presenting the diagnosis and cure for the current Democratic (or should I say democratic) malaise. They are almost exclusively of one voice. Overwhelmingly, they claim that Democrats over-reached by moving too far to the left and alienating otherwise moderate Americans. If Democrats want to succeed in the near future they will need to pursue a more moderate (read conservative) agenda. In essence, Democrats should be more like Republicans
because Republicans have embraced a moderate agenda?
This was the advice of a tsk tsking David Brooks and of a stern rebuke from Evan Bayh admonishing Democrats to just shake off that pesky liberalism. After all, only about 20% of the population identifies as liberal. Of course, Brooks and Bayh offered the reviled Obamacare as a prime example of liberal over-reach. Democrats, according to Bayh and Brooks sneer that only extremists want things like universal health care and an effective social safety net. Democrats, stalking with Obama, should “reclaim the center.”
This is exactly the advice Democrats and Obama specifically should reject. Unless Obama wants the caption under his presidential picture to read, “First black president, followed by a convoluted lists of semi-reforms he should rather embrace a bold, liberal agenda. The failures of the Democrats were failures of claims-making, not policy. Democrats never developed and owned a discourse that went beyond slogans. They presented cumbersome legislation like Health Care Reform composed of a byzantine conglomeration of half measures and regulations (many of which were worthwhile) that could not be sold to a confused public. Republicans, on the other hand, were free to respond with death panels and government take-over of health care, and the same old socialist fear-mongering that has become a conservative staple. And for the most part, Democrats let them do it. Consequently, a health care bill full of popular measures became unpopular.
Let’s do a quick thought experiment on the subject. How many great moderate ideas have made history? Name one important, moderate. Go ahead, I dare you! Yeah, some might suggest Abraham Lincoln as a moderate. Perhaps he was of moderate temperament, but his actions, those decisions that earned him a great place in history books were far from moderate. They were bold as the times called for. From choosing to hold the nation together militarily to The Emancipation Proclamation, and yes, even the more negative decisions such as rescinding habeas corpus, Lincoln made bold decisions. His moderation may have tempered the hotter tempers of the time, but Lincoln’s presidency was not one of moderation. So Lincoln’s down. Name another.
Well, like the Civil War, and the Great Depression and all of the varied crises faced by the United States throughout history, the answer is not moderation. The answer is creative, innovative, bold proposals that will get people to work and rebuild out failing nation. Democrats did not lose because they went too far left. They lost because they didn’t lean fare enough to the left, and the country suffered as a result. Liberal ideas such as a new New Deal, a moratorium on foreclosures, meaningful finance reform, a public option, even prosecuting the most flagrant of Wall Street hucksters would have paid dividends. Even if these policies did not end the Great Recession, the people would have known that at the very least their government was working for them. With the half-measures put into play by Democrats, a great deal of capital evaporated with nothing in return.
When the nation was on the verge of the second Great Depression, for instance, most economists knew that the economy needed a significant infusion of cash into the system. Democrats moderated their position for political expediency, not to mention a fair share of cowardice. They did avoid another Depression, but rather than presiding over an economic recovery, they were left holding responsibility for a stalled economyjust as predicted by economists. A candidate just cannot run on the premise that “things could have been worse.”
The health care bill began as a mandate for liberal change. Obama was elected on the promise that he would create a comprehensive health care reform that included a public option, which Americans could choose to participate in if their expensive, private insurance was inadequate. The public option enjoyed support from about 70% of Americans. Yet when the time came, the Democrats faltered, moderated their position, and tossed the public option. The final bill was a largely conservative mandate on individuals to purchase insurance from private companies. Yet conservatives accused Democrats of presiding over a government take-over of health care. Instead of demanding that conservatives prove their accusation, Democrats responded with, “did not!” The few progressive regulations and ideas that remained in the final bill will take effect
someday. This is hardly a left wing over-reach.
In just about every arena the Democrats moderated their positions in the last two years. Financial reform was watered down; don’t ask don’t tell was tied up in meaningless committees; Guantanamo was closed without actually closing; torture was soundly condemned and then off-shored; the intelligence apparatus was not only perpetuated, but legitimized. Where’s the liberalism? Yeah, there were some bright spots. Some initial investment in green technology and infrastructure, some small business loans, a streamlined process for college loans, a tax cut nobody realized was happening. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate.
And where has that left the Democrats. The liberal base has been slapped in the face to the point where it is hard to justify giving Democrats our votes. David Brooks was obviously wrong when he advised Democrats to ignore the liberal base because 99% of liberals were going to vote for Democrats anyway. Well, we didn’t. We voted for liberals. Among the Progressive Caucus in the House only four candidates lost their seats. The Blue Dog Caucus, on the other hand, was cut in half when liberal voters found no reason for burning gas to show up at the polls.
I’ll admit that I was one to condemn this inaction on the part of Democratic voters. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that the majority of registered voters preferred Democrats in general over Republican in general. Yet specific Democrats did nothing but disappoint. Consequently, those who actually showed up were the conservatives. This is not the fault of the voter. It is the fault of the Democrat. Any citizen has the right to vote with their butts, by leaving them at home if there is no viable option. If Democrats want votes, they need to earn them; they need to inspire us to show up, not try to scare us with the certainty that if we don’t vote Democratic, then the others will surely win.
Liberals, left wanting, left the Democrats wanting for votes. Without the base, Democrats cannot win. This should be obvious at this point. To suggest that moderation is the key is entirely contradicted by the results of this election. Republicans certainly did not win by promoting a moderate discourse. They won because they motivated their base. So why should advice be different for Democrats? It shouldn’t.
Yes, Democrats need to attract the moderate vote. But the moderate vote is not contingent upon a moderate message. Moderates are not motivated by their ideology as are liberals and conservatives. Moderates are asking themselves, “am I better off than I was two years ago?” If the answer is in the negative, you will not get the vote. Moderates really don’t care about the deficit, because the deficit does not immediately impact them. We’ve lived with huge deficits since the Reagan Administration. Why should new deficits be any different? Moderates care about jobs, their children going to school, the trains running on time, so to speak. Liberal policies would have accomplished this if they were not moderated by spineless Democrats. Moderates will vote Democrat if they actually get something out of it.
The “shellacking” received by the Democrats this midterm was well deserved. By consistently turning their backs on their base, even insulting liberal supporters with legitimate demands, the Democrats demonstrated once again that they want liberals to set up the hall, but they are unwilling to invite us to the dance. Well now look at you.