WHEN THEY SHOULD BE SWINGING FOR THE FACES
Is there anything more dispiriting than being a Democrat? For years now I’ve been saying that nobody snatched defeat from the jaws of victory quite like Democrats. In the late eighties and early nineties, the Democratic Party, having been completely castrated by the Reagan Revolution, turned its back on core progressive principles. For the most part, it stopped being the party of civil rights, of the New Deal, of the Great Society. They gave up bold, progressive ideas for the sake of trying to embrace some of the passion of the New Right wing that was laying them low with a white backlash and small government mythology.
The Democratic Party replaced their progressive platform with third-way, kinder, gentler corporatism. Under the leadership of the Clintons, Al Gore, among others, the Democratic Party became Pro-Choice Republicans who supported Social Security and Medicare. They then turned to the progressive base and said, “whatayagonna do? Vote Republican?”
Well…no…of course not. Progressives are not going to vote for regressives, but that doesn’t mean we are going to vote for non-progressives. And during this time the Democratic Party lost almost continuously. Many of us, including myself, dedicated ourselves to voting for third parties. Others just pulled the lever for local elections or the few appealing candidates presented to us but left the rest of the ballot card blank. Some of us, under extreme circumstances, held our noses and grudgingly voted for Democrats when the alternatives were clearly dire, such as a Bush second term.
Yeah, there were a couple of victories. Democrats returned to legislative power briefly in 2006 and managed to get their guy into the White House in 2008. The latter was elected largely because the progressive base deluded themselves into thinking Obama was more to the left than he really was. But, hey! A win is a win. For the most part, Democrats lost, and they lost because they ignored their base and played to the center, even when the center shifted further and further right. It was a nihilistic enterprise, and it ended as nihilistic enterprises do–in utter calamity at the Trumpian scale.
You’d think they’d learn, that the Democrats would learn that the country does not need two corporate parties. You’d think that when a self-proclaimed socialist who wasn’t even a member of the Party could become a threat to the most established of establishment candidates (and likely would have won the primary had it not been for the undemocratic delegate system) that they might have taken heed to the excitement that their own candidate could never stoke.
But no. It’s business as usual in the Democratic Party. Don’t make waves. Move cautiously. You don’t want to scare off the center. The result is the same old milquetoast blather that the voters have rejected time and again. I just don’t understand.
And it’s not like the progressive base is being unreasonable and setting the party up to lose. The things that the base is rallying for are overwhelmingly popular. Single-payer health care. Publicly funded college. Green energy. Just to name a few. I could go on. And though these policies are even popular among Republicans and centrists, they at least look bold…a heckuva lot bolder than “vote for us, we’re not as bad as you know who.”
The Democratic response to this is that they can’t get these policies passed. They are probably right. Republicans will obstruct and the right-wing propaganda machine will go full tilt to misinform the public. But so what? They lose anyway. Might as well lose trying to do something meaningful than to water down your objectives so much that losing is largely irrelevant.
Right now the Democrats are reveling in the fact that Trump is so unpopular and Republicans are so unpopular that they should be able to get their candidates into office without actually having to do anything as energy intensive as supporting bold policies. And this is why I’m just not feeling this so-called “blue wave” that everyone seems to be taking for granted.
Democrats should have learned a long time ago that their opponents don’t have to be popular. They just have to be more popular than Democrats. And that’s not a high bar. I pointed this on back in 2010, before the famous “shellacking” that the Democrats failed to learn from. Back then I accused the Democratic Party of being a bunting team…
..a subject I know a little bit about.
A Note to Democrats: Stop Being a Bunting Team
If you want to win you have to swing for the fence!
When I was a kid my friends and I would play baseball. It was unorganized. In fact, often it was downright chaotic. It was loud and argumentative and lacking in finesse. One thing could be counted on, however…we were going for the big plays. We always hit the ball hard, threw the ball fast and slid head-first when we stole a base (except when we played on the street. We were crazy, not stupid). We ended each game with torn clothes, bruised bodies, and
bleeding knees and elbows. Often, we were grounded for something. But no one could say we didn’t play hard. And when we lost, at least we had some cool scars to brag about.
My first year playing organized baseball our coach sat us down and, without even a hint of irony, informed us that we were going to be a bunting team. Yes, a bunting team! Boy, I can’t tell you how exciting that was! Name one great baseball player who was famous for his bunting. You can’t, can you? Well, there’s a reason for that. Whereas bunting can be a useful strategy to advance a runner, it is by no means a technique on which to build a team that wins. Our team was 0-14 for the season. We would have been 0-15, but in one game only eight of us showed up. I played center right field (the only time I’ve ever been center right in anything). The game was called after two and a half innings with a score of 20-0, not enough innings to count as an official game.
I can tell you with certainty that there is nothing more dispiriting than being on a bunting team!
This midterm election Democrats are afraid that their liberal base will not show up to vote for them. Well, that could be true. If it works out that way then Democrats have no one to blame but themselves. This was their election to lose. With a left of center Democratic president and solid majorities in both houses, the Democrats could have been a World Series team. Instead, they chose to be a bunting team. And to my knowledge, aside from your parents, no one cheers for a bunting team.
For the sake of securing legislative victories without too much of a fight, Democrats whittled away key liberal agenda points, such as a robust public option, meaningful jobs programs, and radical Wall Street reform until there was nothing left but a shadow of what started out as a great idea. To get these vestigial programs passed Democrats still had to engage in mortal combat with Republicans who openly admitted and demonstrated that they will vote against every measure that might be construed a victory for Democrats. They even vote against their own measures if Democrats support them. This isn’t about good government and leadership among Republicans, it’s about political aggrandizement.
Faced with this kind of opposition the Democrats chose to advance their runners with shallow plays, but never took the risk of swinging away. The consequence is that any liberal idea proposed by Democrats was stuck at second and third base when the inning ended. (If nothing else, I can extend a metaphor). There’s no reason for anyone to show up to support a bunting team. There’s nothing to excite the fans.
Democrats, if you want liberals to show up you have to swing for the fence. You have to steal your bases. You have to take the risk. If you are going to fight for something, why not fight for something meaningful? If you know that any and every stimulus package you suggest is going to be opposed, why not suggest a colossal stimulus aimed at small businesses, working Americans and homeowners and let the Republicans fight that. Why not put a moratorium on foreclosures and let the Republicans fight to guarantee that Americans will lose their homes? Why not fight for a public option, which 80% of Americans support? End the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, which even 60% of Republicans support! If there’s going to be a fight, why not excite the fans with some power plays?
If nothing else, run on your record. Convince liberals that despite your bunting game you did score some runs. Health care reform did create many benefits for Americans, including a patient’s bill of rights. You did pass some legislation to reform Wall Street and the financial markets. You were largely correct about TARP, which is expected to run a profit for the taxpayer by December. Instead, you appear to be ashamed that some of your runners crossed home plate.
Right now progressives feel that in every election Democrats expect us to decorate their hall, but when the politics starts we are never invited to the dance. If we don’t show up for you this election, you have no one to blame but yourselves.
The rest is, as they say, history. Democrats didn’t blame themselves. They blamed progressives. They continued to bunt. They put up a batter that clutches on the 3-2 and progressives did not show up for her.
Now, the only excitement in the party is the stuttering confusion and desperation of the establishment as the Justice Democrats and other progressives organize and demand a chance at bat. The rest is Pelosi/Schumer Wiffle ball. If the “blue wave” turns into a trickle, don’t mind if I say “I told you so.”