What is a Democrat, anyway?
The President's steadfast refusal to acknowledge that we have a two-party system, his insistence on making destructive concessions to the same party voters he had sent packing twice in a row in the name of "bipartisanship," and his refusal ever to utter the words "I am a Democrat" and to articulate what that means, are not among his virtues. We have competing ideas in a democracy -- and hence competing parties -- for a reason. To paper them over and pretend they do not exist, particularly when the ideology of one of the parties has proven so devastating to the lives of everyday Americans, is not a virtue. It is an abdication of responsibility.
What happens if you refuse to lay the blame for the destruction of our economy on anyone -- particularly the party, leaders, and ideology that were in power for the last 8 years and were responsible for it? What happens if you fail to "brand" what has happened as the Bush Depression or the Republican Depression or the natural result of the ideology of unregulated greed, the way FDR branded the Great Depression as Hoover's Depression and created a Democratic majority for 50 years and a new vision of what effective government can do? What happens when you fail to offer and continually reinforce a narrative about what has happened, who caused it, and how you're going to fix it that Americans understand, that makes them angry, that makes them hopeful, and that makes them committed to you and your policies during the tough times that will inevitably lie ahead?
The answer was obvious a year ago, and it is even more obvious today: Voters will come to blame you for not having solved a problem you didn't create, and you will allow the other side to create an alternative narrative for what's happened (government spending, deficits, big government, socialism) that will stick. And it will particularly stick if you make no efforts to prevent it from starting or sticking. . . .
So in that sense, the story of health insurance played right into the story that lies behind the looming tsunami that swept away Ted Kennedy's Senate seat and will sweep away so many more Democratic seats if the Democrats draw the wrong conclusions from this election. The White House just couldn't seem to "get" that the American people could see that they were constantly coming down on the side of the same bankers who were foreclosing people's homes and shutting off the credit to small business owners, when they should have been helping the people whose homes were being foreclosed and the small businesses that were trying to stay afloat because of the recklessness of banks that were now starving them. Americans were tired of hearing Obama "exhort" bankers and speculators to play nice as they collected their record bonuses for a heckuva job in 2009. It took him a year to float the idea of making them pay for a fraction of the damage they had done, and at this point, few Americans have any faith that a tax on big banks will ever become law or that the costs won't just be passed on to them in new fees.
The White House has squandered the greatest opportunity to change both the country and the political landscape since Ronald Reagan. It should have started with a non-watered-down stimulus package big enough to stop the bleeding in the job market -- and a smack-down of any Republican who dared to utter the word "deficit" after 8 years of reckless, unpaid Republican spending. It should have followed with stringent regulations on Wall Street and protection of homeowners and small businesses instead of with a jobs creation program inside the administration for failed bankers and failed regulators. A stimulus -- including a jobs program -- strong enough to prevent the hemorrhaging of 700,000 jobs a month and a muscular approach to the bad actors who had crashed the economy would have gotten the public firmly behind the President and the Democrats, demonstrating to the average voter that they have a choice between one party that's on their side and another that's not. Instead, the White House just blurred the lines between the parties so the average American couldn't tell the difference.
With all its efforts to tack to the center, the White House missed the point. The issue isn't about right or left. It's about whose side you're on. In Massachusetts, the voters believe they know. It's now up to the President and his party to convince the American people otherwise.
I'm going to hazard a thought for further elaboration later. The Democratic Party is now dominated by professional elites. It has lost ordinary working people as the driving force of the party as unionism has declined. The difference between the Democratic leadership and the corporate elite represented by Republicans is that the former went to Harvard Law School or the Graduate School in Economics or Political Science, and the latter went to Harvard Business School. They carry on friendly arguments at Washington cocktail parties, but marry each others' brothers or sisters. Yeah, the Democrats say they care more, and some of them do, and they do have to pay lip service to the actual representatives of real working people, but that conservative elite is a source of money for the Democrats, too. There is no fire in the belly -- when push comes to shove, they really don't give a shit about the people who are devastated by Republican ideology. Not enoughb, anyway, to risk an unpleasant situation at a DuPont circle get-together.
If you want to think more about this, go look at the bios of Obama's White House staff and cabinet. They are all Ivy League. Could that have something to do with a perception that the Ivy Leaguers from the B-School were running financial institutions that were too big to fail.
Oh, excuse me, I'm playing the class card, aren't I? We only let the right-wing tea party people get away with that. It's beneath us.