Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Electoral catastrophe: Democrats and progressives battered in brutal midterms

Forty eight months ago, the Democratic Party reclaimed the majority in what was, at the time, one of the most significant midterm elections in American history.

Tonight, Democrats surrendered the hard fought gains made not only in 2006, but in 2008, with the exception of the presidency and the Class 1 Senate seats (which were not in jeopardy because those offices were not on the ballot).

The catastrophe has reached monumental proportions.

Control of the U.S. House has been relinquished to the Republicans, as has control of several state Legislatures. The Senate Democratic caucus has lost nearly a tenth of its members. Republicans also appear to have succeeded in picking up several governorships (for instance, in Ohio and Pennsylvania).

Democrats did manage to dislodge at least three House Republicans from their seats, slightly blunting Republican gains. Democrats and progressives are also faring well in the nation's most populous state, which is sending Jerry Brown to the governor's mansion and Barbara Boxer back to the Senate. California is also rejecting an oil industry-funded proposition to delay the implementation of laws intended to help the state combat the climate crisis.

But bright spots have turned out to be few and far between this election cycle.

Republicans are attempting to portray the results as a repudiation of progressivism and President Obama's agenda. They're wrong.

The reality is, voters aren't upset about what Democrats have accomplished; they're upset about what hasn't been accomplished.

Primarily, they're mad that the economy is still broken. Which is understandable.

Voters wanted to punish somebody in this election, and Republicans successfully goaded them into punishing Democrats, even though Democrats were not responsible for the financial crisis of 2008 or the onset of the Great Recession.

Democrats failed to frame the election on their own terms, and failed to build the infrastructure needed to sustain Democratic majorities in Congress during politically tumultuous times. The party offered a lackluster message that did not clearly articulate its values, principles, or even its policy directions and accomplishments.

The Democratic Party, in other words, was its own worst enemy.

President Barack Obama and his advisers exacerbated the Democratic Party's problems by committing a series of strategic blunders. The most significant was failing to make a progressive jobs bill the first priority following the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. And by "jobs bill", I mean jobs-creation bill. ARRA was a jobs-saving initiative.

It needed to be followed with a jobs-creating sequel.

The second priority should have been passing a small business jobs and credit act, and the third passing a Wall Street reform bill. Attempting healthcare reform before those other priorities was a costly mistake.

The White House also failed to position the President as a populist champion willing to take on powerful interests. Obama should have and could have been aggressive in dealing with the banks and hedge funds, but every time he admonished Wall Street, he would walk back his tough talk by trying to make nice with the very people he had previously criticized.

And after squandering opportunities to govern responsively, Obama and his team then chose to invest money and energy into saving the Senate majority, rather than repaying Nancy Pelosi for all the heavy lifting she did on their behalf.

They appear to have succeeded in their objective, but at a tremendous cost: Their strongest legislative ally is now out of power.

Democrats and progressives also failed to shine a powerful-enough spotlight on the many powerful interests who were emboldened by the "Corporations United decision and quietly bankrolled Republican campaigns and "independent" right wing expenditures. Tens of millions are dollars were spent misleading the electorate and telling lies about Democrats. That money could have been marginalized with a creative and forceful response. It wasn't.

Those who were supposed to make sure tonight's electoral catastrophe didn't happen need to step up and take responsibility for the mess, particularly Tim Kaine, who owes the Democratic Party his prompt resignation as Chair.

New leadership at the national level is sorely needed to start the rebuilding process and prepare for a difficult 2012 cycle.

At the local level, new leadership will also be needed, in many cases for an entirely different reason: there are officers who have decided to move on and turn over their responsibilities to somebody else after years of service.

Democratic Party organizations in Washington State will soon begin the process of reorganizing, or dissolving and starting anew. The King County Democrats will be reorganizing in just one month, on December 4th.

The current chair, Suzie Sheary, has announced her retirement; NPI board member Steve Zemke and Karl de Jong are candidates to succeed her.

I encourage readers who consider themselves Democrats to participate in the process of reorganization, especially readers who are precinct committee officers and actually have the ability to vote in officer elections.

Last night's results are a painful reminder that electoral victories are not everlasting. What has been won can be surrendered or lost. If Democrats and progressives don't build a permanent campaign to win elections and build infrastructure between elections, then this country is never going to get beyond being stuck in neutral... when it's not sliding backwards.


Blogger Sean G said...

Excellent recap of the results. I hope this election serves as a blessing in disguise for progressives, and we emerge stronger for it in 2012. No doubt the newly elected tea party caucus will provide plenty of examples of why we need real progressive leadership. Hopefully the centrist democrats will continue to crumble over the next two years, and a real progressive majority can regain control in '12.

November 3, 2010 4:01 PM  

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