Top 10 Reasons Why We Lost Last Night

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

1. "It's the economy, stupid." That famous saying, by James Carville during the Clinton for President campaign of 1992, is as applicable today as ever. When voters are unhappy about the economy, which they most certainly are today, they tend to vote against the party in power. True, Republicans got us into this mess and Democrats are starting to get us out of it, but most voters haven't really seen that yet, as unemployment remains at painfully high levels. Until the economy turns around, frankly, it's going to be an extremely difficult political environment for Democrats.

2. Martha Coakley was an absolutely horrible candidate, scoffing at the idea of standing outside Fenway Park in the cold and shaking hands, calling Boston Red Sox legend Curt Schilling a Yankees fan, being totally overconfident and taking a long Christmas break following her primary victory on December 8, acting as if she didn't have to work for the seat and that it was preordained for her, etc., etc. Blech.

3. Massachusetts voters were angry at Governor Deval Patrick - a Democrat and close friend of Barack Obama's. In the latest poll, Patrick had an net disapproval rating of 11 points (41%-52%) and a net unfavorable rating of 11 points (39%-50%). The ratings were even worse among independent voters, among whom Patrick has a 33%-56% unfavorable rating. Not good.

4. Scott Brown ran an effective campaign, but I wouldn't get carried away about this. Frankly, any generic Republican would have done well in the political environment described in #1-#3.

5. On health care reform, Rasmussen Reports has some interesting polling numbers. Among Brown voters, 78% "strongly" opposed the health care legislation before Congress right now, while among Coakley voters, 52% "strongly" favored it. Based on this information, it's apparent that there was an intensity gap on the current health care reform legislation, with significantly more Massachusetts voters "strongly" opposed than "strongly" in favor. In addition, Rasmussen says that "[h]ealth care has been a huge issue in this election," with "Fifty-two percent (52%) of Brown voters say[ing] it was the most important issue in determining their vote" compared to "Sixty-three percent (63%) of Coakley voters [who said] health care was the top issue." Perhaps if Democrats had passed a stronger, more robust health care reform bill by Barack Obama's original deadline of Labor Day -- instead of, as Harold Meyerson points out in today's Washington Post, taking the "the entire first year of Barack Obama's presidency" to NOT pass one freakin' law!! - things might have been different? Perhaps if Democrats hadn't spent month after fruitless month chasing after support from that ever-elusive "moderate" Republican (Olympia Snowe? Charles Grassley? anyone?) and allowing Joe Lieberman (Insurance Industry Shill - Connecticut) to remove almost everything good from the health care bill, we might have fared better last night (and in November 2009)? Just a crazy thought... :)

6. As I wrote back in November 2009, President Obama should have gone "populist" a long time ago.
People on "Main Street" are hurting right now while "Wall Street" is actually doing pretty well (having been bailed out by the taxpayers), which means the country is rife for populist unrest of various sorts. Unfortunately, right now, the only sustained, semi-organized populist unrest we're seeing is coming from the (far) right wing of the political spectrum. Where's the equivalent populist movement on the left? Where's the sustained critique of corporate power, profits, and unhealthy influence on our politics? Where are the fiery/passionate speeches about "two Americas" (or, to paraphrase Jim Webb from 2006, "America is breaking into three pieces: the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class getting squeezed")? Where are the policy initiatives that specifically favor the working and middle classes over the wealthy? If you've seen any of this, please let me know, because I've missed it.
Unfortunately, Obama didn't do this, effectively ceding the ground to the right-wing, "Tea Party" populists. Last night, we saw the result.

7. The White House and Congress screwed up big time by trying to be "bipartisan," which could work in theory but not when there's no partner on the other side, only Eric Cantor's/John Boehner's/Mitch McConnell's bitter, recalcitrant "Party of No." As I wrote last November:
Sadly, the once-great Republican Party now has degenerated to the point where it has only one desire - to "break" Obama (or any other Democrat, on the national or state level) and to roll back progress wherever they see it starting to sprout up. Sure, it would be great if America could be - as Barack Obama said in his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech - not a country divided into "red" and "blue," but instead "one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America." Unfortunately, as Tom Friedman explains in the NY Times today, "at least six things have come together to fracture our public space and paralyze our ability to forge optimal solutions." I recommend that you read Friedman's column to see what those "six things" are, but the bottom line is this: right now, our politics is largely broken if not completely dysfunctional. Certainly, we're far FAR away from Obama's vision of reasonable people from right and left working together in good faith to get things done and move America forward. Instead, we've got members of the "Party of No" whose incentives - the way their districts are drawn, the way talk radio and TV pull people to the extremes, etc. - are all to move further to the right, not to the center (let alone the left). Given that, it's time for Barack Obama to demand that Congress pass the agenda he ran on, and which he was given a clear mandate to carry out. If Republicans want to work in good faith with Obama, that's great. But if they truly have no other interest than to obstruct, delay and damage, then they can go off and sulk in a corner while Democrats get things done for the American people.
In the end, of course, Democrats didn't tell Republicans to go off and sulk in a corner. Instead, they kept trying, and trying, and trying to gain their support, which of course never came. Which leads me to ask, "what WAS the White House - Rahm et al. - thinking?"

8. People don't perceive real "change" in Washington, only the "same old same old" - gridlock, the parties at each others' throats, sweetheart deals to powerful interests (health insurance companies, Big Pharma, the financial sector, etc.). To quote myself once again (hey, this is fun! - lol):
The centerpiece of Barack Obama's campaign for president was the appealing but amorphous word "change." If that word is to mean anything, we've got to start seeing the end of "business as usual in Washington." Right now, is there any evidence of any "change" in said "business as usual?" I certainly don't see it, whether on the health care debate or on climate change/clean energy legislation or on pork-laden spending bills or on "pay as you go" or on... Anyway, enough is enough. If this continues, it will be not only a huge missed opportunity to put our country back on the right course, it will also be a political disaster for Democrats in 2010 and 2012. Think about it this way: if there's nothing to get people excited for Democrats in 2010 and 2012, why would we expect the results be any better than they were in Virginia and New Jersey 2009?
I hate to say "I told you so," but...

9. Unlike what Ronald Reagan did in the early 1980s, blaming (to a large extent, unfairly) everything on Jimmy Carter for years after he took office, the Democrats in 2009 - despite having a much, much stronger case against George W. Bush than Reagan had against Carter - ceded the political narrative by failing to tell voters early and often exactly how we got into this mess (Republican policies of crony capitalism, wild overspending on wars and tax cuts to rich people, etc.) and specifically who was to blame for it (Republicans, Bush, Republicans, did I mention Republicans?!?). Instead, Barack Obama continued his attempt at transcending "red America" and "blue America," and in the process offered no effective, competing political narrative to the Republicans' wildly irresponsible, mendacious nonsense. While Obama's goals may have been admirable, the de facto result was disastrous, unilateral disarmament by Democrats, with yesterday (not to mention November 2009 in New Jersey and Virginia) being - at least in part - the triumph of divided (and angry, and "know-nothing") America over the UNITED States of America. Ugh.

10. Finally, it's well worth reading Peter Daou's Huffington Post column, "Liberal Bloggers to Obama and Dems: We Told You So". I don't agree with all of this, but I strongly agree that "when you fail to govern based on a morally sound, well-articulated, solidly-grounded set of ideals, you look weak." I also strongly agree that "After years of a systematic effort by the right to use Overton-style tactics to radicalize our national discourse, the center has moved so far right that the left is barely recognizable." It's time for Democrats to stop apologizing for being Democrats and to stop being ashamed of adhering to core Democratic and progressive values (see Creigh "Not an Obama Democrat" Deeds). If Democratic "leaders" are not proud of being Democrats, why would anyone else be? And why would anyone vote for them, even in the bluest of blue states? Short answer: they wouldn't, and they didn't.

UPDATE: Also check out Drew Westen's excellent article, "Obama Finally Gets His Victory For Bipartisanship."