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Sunday, November 16, 2014

What Happened?

What can I say?  Much too much, if the length of this piece is any indication! The People have spoken and the Party of NO, the Big Lie and of not-so-subtle Hate has been put in power.  As I have said for the last few weeks:  elections have consequences, and we are about to experience those consequences first-hand.  The next two years are about to unfold the very essence of the Republican brand, and it won’t be pretty.  Unless the President uses his veto power to reject every piece of Radical Republican legislation presented to him, we are about to experience two of the worst years ever seen in our modern era. 

What did we learn from this debacle?

1)  When Democrats run away from their President, and from progressive Democratic values, they get walloped at the polls.  Some say they got walloped anyway.  I disagree.  They got inundated because they did not stand strong for progressive Democratic principles and values. They tried to sound like Republicans so they could draw the independent and moderate middle votes.  It didn’t work.  It rarely works. Instead of standing strong for health care reform, minimum wage increase, jobs legislation, raise in social security and Medicare benefits, and so on – what amounts to a populist agenda – some chose to “protect women’s access” to contraception and abortion as their main item in their campaign.  Others chose to go soft on fossil fuels, others faltered on the rest of the President’s agenda, like immigration reform.  Ms. Grimes in Kentucky would not even acknowledge her voting support for the President in the last election.      

2)  When the Leaders of the Democrats in Congress protect their caucus members from taking difficult stands and difficult votes, Democrats tend to lose.  Harry Reid is the epitome of a Leader who is past his time; he needs to give up his new position of Minority Leader, and to be replaced by the likes of Chuck Schumer of New York who has already demonstrated his leadership abilities.  As to Nancy Pelosi, it pains me to say that her leadership may also be passe`, although I venture to say she should probably remain through the lame duck term.  Politico.com’s exclusive interview of Pelosi on Nov 12th spells out some reasons why she should stay: she is unrelenting on Democratic principles, policies and strategies; she is a strong leader; she possesses incredible fund-raising prowess having just demonstrated again this cycle that she can outraise all other House Democrats.  But, Pelosi also acknowledges that fresh leadership is important to cultivate, but she will stay as long as the members keep wanting her to be their leader, and there is little indication of opposition. Although there are reported “grumblings” from younger members, there is no real movement yet to get her to retire.  No one doubts that she has the accumulated power to make that decision on her own!  
Beyond that, it appears from the most recent action to place Senator Elizabeth Warren on the inside of Democratic Party Leadership with the title of strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, helping to craft the party's policy positions and priorities, is a step that is much needed. She will also serve as a liaison to progressive groups to ensure they have a voice – which is exactly what is needed!

3)  Money rules – not values, not policies, not principles, not even accomplishments.  Whether we like it or not, the wealthy have taken over our elections, with the help of a conservative SCOTUS.  Democrats are caught in the middle, espousing a long-desired election campaign reform package, and yet needing more money to fight the forces of the Koch brothers and their ilk who now spend enormous sums through third party PACs to boost “their” candidates. The answer is quite simple: until we can gain control of Congress, and advance the cause of thorough election reform, we must adopt the premise that money-raising and targeted spending is a necessary evil/goal and must be a top priority.  We have to face the fact that we have to pry money from the big spenders and the big corporations – from all those who at least have some values in common with us.  (By the way, where are George Soros and Nick Hanauer and other rich progressives like them? We need their backing).  And, we probably cannot afford to be too choosy about every donor either so here’s one thought:  why not require all major donors to sign an affidavit declaring their understanding that the money is a donation freely given that does not entitle them to any special treatment or access. Or, perhaps we could simply promise them the Moon and deliver an inconsequential Pluto!

4)  The People do not have enough understanding of the way government operates: that Congress is responsible for legislating, and when legislation is not written to solve real problems, the President cannot be blamed for that omission.  The blaming of the President for the failures of the Senate and the House is ignorance writ large.  Added to that ignorance is the delusion that a divided government will somehow make people work together.  It’s not going to happen.  We have reaped the harvest of a national education system that removed civics and political science from its curriculum, except in some cases where they remain as electives.  If you have ever watched “Jay Walking” on the former “Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, you can understand perfectly what is being said here.  The people picked off the streets by Jay and shown a picture of the Vice President, for instance, were at a loss as to who was pictured. 
What’s worse, we are at a loss to explain how anyone can vote against their best interests in an election.  2014 will ever stand as the epitome of that kind of voting.  In spite of all kinds of austerity programming in proposed Republican budgets and legislation; in spite of seeing millionaires prosper while average wages went down; in spite of health care reform that benefits millions of consumers threatened with repeal, the voters still chose the very people who promote those concepts and ideas.   Apparently, self-flagellation and self-abuse are alive and well in our country.  Even scientists have vague reasons for such behavior.  All we can say is that education is one very important answer, and we must put civics lessons back into the public schools and into community forums.  It is not enough to emphasize math and science as a way to prosperity.

5)  Progressive citizens who did not vote have made this result inevitable.  Where were the students, the minorities, the working poor?  Home?  At work?  They certainly were not at the polls in the numbers needed.  In fact, the many student leaders in the 22nd NY Congressional district did not even respond to a call for their participation in a district-wide write-in campaign.  Perhaps they voted at their homes, but if so, they missed an opportunity to make waves in one particular upstate NY district.  There are some who say that voter suppression laws had something to do with the lack of voter turnout, but that is yet to be proven.  The evidence is not convincing.  What is perhaps more convincing is the Gallup Poll that was taken shortly after the mid-term election and published by Politico.com on Nov. 12. 

“Only 36 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic party, a 6-percentage-point drop from before the midterms, the Gallup poll released Wednesday found. With the GOP standing with 42 percent favorability, it is the first time since 2011 the GOP has had a higher rating than the Democrats.  The favorability rating for Democrats is the party’s lowest since Gallup began asking the question in 1992.” 
So, perhaps it is less voter suppression than voter depression that kept Democrats from the polls.

6)  Finally, you cannot win elections when you do not stand up for difficult issues like healthcare reform, tax reform, job creation, or regulation of Wall Street financiers or bank CEOs.  According to a study by the Brookings Institution, “only 36 percent of 2014 Democratic candidates mentioned support of the Affordable Care Act in their platform.”  You cannot pretend to be a Populist Democrat while acting Republican-lite.  A certain amount of discipline is required within a political Party, usually administered by Party Leaders, and that discipline must extend to those who side once too often with the opposition.  In this particular case, the discipline was handed out by the voters.  Here are the names of some who got voted out perhaps because they did not strongly espouse populist Democrat Party accomplishments:  Mark Udall (SD); Mark Warren (VA), Mark Begich (WA), Mark Pryor (AR) (“Mark” well what happens to democrat Senators when they abandon democratic principles). 

Democrats should have run on their principles, not away from them. Because they allowed the President to be demonized and denounced by Republican con men and women, and because they did not stand up for him and did not run on the accomplishments of the last 6 years --some accomplishments that were made despite Republican obstructionism -- many people had no reason to vote for them and probably did not even show up at the polls on Election Day.

We apparently lost this election because many Democrat office-holders refused to face a multi-faceted reality.  We can’t win with a passive strategy.  We can’t win just talking about progressive issues, values and policies.  We can’t even win with a good ground game!  We need to recognize first and foremost that the Republicans have bested us in using language and symbols to utterly devastate our candidates.  And who answered back?  No one because everyone was hiding from the same reality.  All the gimmicks, organizations, data gathering and data entry, plus good old fashioned GOTV, did not work because Republicans have stolen the ground out from under us, and tilted the playing field.  Some call it a game.  Not Republicans: they know it’s a WAR.  And since Democrats are not war-prone, we have a very hard time dealing with that reality (and in fact have failed to deal with it).  Here are some of the reactions I found, none of which speak on their own to the multi-faceted reality:

1)  Some say we must support and elect Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.  Apparently, that is not necessarily a widely held view.   First, Mary Landrieu needs to get her priorities straightened out, then she might deserve that support.  She seems too anxious to support a Republican agenda, which has worked for her in the past, but this year may not be enough as we shall see in December.   On the other hand, she voted 96% of the time with her Party, so maybe she needs some slack, but here’s the part of her record that raises questions about her candidacy:

--on controlling gun violence, more often sided with GOP to expand gun rights, voted against ban of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, voted to expand concealed gun carry laws, voted in favor of Republican rhetoric on enforcing laws on the books.
--as to Oil interests:  approved Keystone pipeline being instituted and against more study with a decision 30 days after report issued; currently trying to get something passed in the Senate so she can use it in her run-off.
--wanted to see expansion of eavesdropping by CIA, etc.
--on 2007 CIR, voted with Republicans to defeat cloture on debate and thus wreaked chances of passing bill with special worker visas
--voted against authorization of withdrawal from Iraq
--voted for military tribunals to try terrorists and for enhanced interrogation techniques, such as ‘water-boarding’

2)  Veto plans—there is much talk about the President’s power to veto any legislation written by Republicans (who knows if they remember how to craft legislation?).  Problem is, he has to consider a few questions:  are there some areas where signing Republican legislation would at least provide something of worth and value to the general public?  Should he allow some measures to pass into law without his signature just to show what Republicans will do when given the chance? Should he work for compromise (I prefer “trade-offs”) on major issues?  And what about a veto override: are there some issues where enough Democrats would join with Republicans to overturn a veto (2/3s vote)?  Veto power is not a simple concept.  It’s a difficult way to govern, and it tempts the Party in the majority to blame the President for everything he blocks – such would be a continuation of the false charge that he is prone to abuse of power by governing by Executive Order!

3)  New leadership – there are critics who claim that our leadership in the Dem Party is inadequate.  Most of this falls on Harry Reid, but the President comes in for some criticism of his management of the Executive bureaucracy as well.  According to some, Harry Reid allowed too many Democrats, especially from southern and western states, to stray from the Democratic agenda.  Most of those Democrats lost and one hangs in the balance – Mary Landrieu.

4)  Get behind Hillary – many seem to think we should get behind Hillary right now and push her all the way to victory in 2016.  Unfortunately, she does not seem to be ready to declare her candidacy right now (if ever), and there is that nagging feeling out there that by 2016 she will not be the candidate we need or want!  Democracy for America has even put out a missive that calls for a competitive democratic primary battle to show Americans “who we really are, our ideas, our diversity, our vision for the future of America.”  DFA even presents an alphabetical list of possible candidates who have at least expressed an interest in running.  They are asking members and readers to vote as to who they want to run for President in 2016.  That should prove interesting.  What is more interesting is that almost every time the Democratic Party gets involved in primaries to such an extent, we tend to lose momentum and the general election!

5)  Work on saving Obama’s legacy – there are those who say keep fighting for the President’s agenda although it has been rejected by voters and by the Republican majority.  We will take a terrible risk if we do not use the next two years to resurrect and support his many accomplishments.  Hiding from his legacy will threaten the winning of the Presidency in 2016.  A group of Democrat office-holders should take the initiative to make this a top priority by tying his accomplishments into a new New Deal for America.

6)  Too many simply say “donate money”.  Simplicity itself will not help Democrats no matter how much is raised.  In essence, the number of dunning letters coming into private homes from Democratic organizations is way out of line and off the mark.  They fabricate the polls and true situations of every race; they capitalize on every news event; they accuse those who don’t respond of being disloyal; they don’t provide a spirited vision or any inspirational way forward. 

7)  One interesting progressive group claims that pushing Harry Reid to take action on judgeship appointments between now and Jan 20th is of extreme importance. Again I have sympathy with this concept, but it is not going to win elections for Democrats (although it may win some progressive decisions in the lower courts).

8)  Some, like Robert Reich and Senator Elizabeth Warren, declare that we must stick with certain “popular” or “populist” issues and push them constantly.  Reich says we need “an agenda for shared prosperity’ including a raising of the minimum wage, investment in education and infrastructure; lift the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes, resurrect Glass-Steagall and limit the size of banks, make it easier for low-wage workers to unionize, raise taxes on corporations with high ratios of CEO pay to average worker pay, and much more.”  Senator Warren speaks along the same lines, but also emphasizes the need to control Wall Street and CEOs. 

DigitalJournal talks about a new New Deal being needed, both in terms of saving the middle class and in order to win elections around a unified core of values.  The U.S. economy is out of the recession, but many voters do not feel that way.  “Yes, the message is still as pertinent as in 1992: “It's the economy, stupid.” Voters are annoyed with the White House because the economy still sucks. And, while many pundits are blaming Democrats' mid-term woes on refusing to tack to the political right and become more conservative, I agree with those who say that the Dems are suffering for failing to stick to the socioeconomic left.”

9)  Sometimes it is important to see what our foes have to say.  Charles Krauthammer, writing in the NY Times, expresses some thoughts that need to be taken seriously.  “He explained on Wednesday the 5th that the Republicans “didn’t win on Tuesday – the Democrats lost.  “It was a repudiation of Obama, but it wasn’t an endorsement of Republicanism yet. It was a way to say we endorse you, we give you the gavel, we give you the opportunity.”  He also said that the GOP must show that it’s a party of ideas and actions by developing an agenda to pass legislation and dare the president to exercise a veto.  “That will show you who the party of ‘no’ really is,” he said.

Krauthammer then lists five big items for a Republican agenda that he says must be urgent, determined and relentless:
1. a bill a week for the first 10 weeks. Start with obvious measures with significant Democratic support, like the Keystone XL pipeline
2. fast-track trade negotiation authority that Harry Reid killed and that Obama, like all presidents, wants. Republicans should propose and pass it, thereby giving Obama a victory and demonstrating both bipartisanship and magnanimity (as well as economic good sense).
3. a simple, targeted bill to repatriate the $2 trillion of assets being held by U.S. corporations overseas, a bill to authorize and expedite the export of liquid natural gas and crude oil (the latter banned by an obsolete 1975 law) and a strong border security bill.
4. symbolic abolition of Obamacare that Obama will immediately veto is less important than multiple rapid fire measures to kill it with a thousand cuts. Repeal of the medical device tax. Repeal of the individual mandate. Repeal of the employer mandate. Repeal of the coverage mandate thereby reinstating Obama's broken promise that "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it." And repeal the federal bailout for insurers on the Obamacare exchanges
5. sweeping reform of the tax system, both corporate and individual, abolishing loopholes and lowering rates, like the historic Reagan-O'Neill 1986 reform or Obama's own abandoned Simpson-Bowles commission. And go large: Invite the other side into immediate negotiations with the aim of producing a tax bill by spring

His final message to the GOP consists of a caution:  “an Executive order on immigration would be naked impeachment bait. Don't take it. Use the power of the purse to defund it. Pledge immediate repeal if Republicans take the White House in 2017. Denounce it as both unconstitutional and bad policy. But don't let it overwhelm and overtake the GOP agenda. That's exactly what Obama wants. It is his only way to regain the initiative.”

 10)   Finally, we may have lost this election so badly because there was too little attention paid to the major problem of voter suppression and vote stealing.  According to Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman on smirkingchimp.com, “since the Bush-Cheney-Rove theft of the 2000 election in Florida, the right of millions of American citizens to vote and have that vote counted has been under constant assault.”  The authors point to the GOP-led purge that has denied the vote to students, the elderly, those living in poverty and to citizens of color.  “Our voting system, to put it mildly, is bought and rigged, further feeding the deadening sense of public futility and frustration.”  One example they cite, unknown to many, is that Republican Secretaries of State in 28 states use a ‘cross-check’ method that allowed them to eliminate several million registered potential Democrat voters  “Deliberate (and often illegal) disinformation campaigns, destruction of voter registration forms, outright voter intimidation, and other suppression techniques” (such as manipulation of un-trackable electronic voting machines) are all examples of an electoral system that is rigged to favor those elected overwhelmingly on Nov. 4th, 2014.  It’s by design, not accident, that the voter turnout in America is ranked 120th in the world!  In this election, barely 1/3rd of those eligible actually voted. 

So: where do we go from here?  First, we have to set out some goals and strategies for the longer term, because we Democrats have dug a hole so deep that it may take a generation to dig out, and that means having some long-range plans.  More next time…