A Failure to Communicate—Not a Failure to Govern

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Not Good (at All), But Could Have Been Worse

A party that governs well but communicates poorly was set back by a party that obstructs well but is more interested in holding power than in governing.

What could have been a hideous wipeout following a grotesque campaign season was instead a series of setbacks, strong disappointments, and some reliefs and bright spots. Among the setbacks we sadly count the Illinois and Pennsylvania senate races where the Democratic candidates came very close. Among the strong disappointments were the losses of progressives like Russ Feingold, Alan Grayson, and Tom Perriello. Ouch. But we were relieved by the victories of senate majority leader Harry Reid, California senator Barbara Boxer, and among the bright spots are the gubernatorial victories of Andrew Cuomo in New York and Jerry Brown in California.

But the Democratic party is in serious trouble in the midsection of the country, with painful losses from Pennsylvania west to Wisconsin . . . Obama already is not strong in the South (which sometimes includes Florida), and that’s not likely to change. (Also disappointing was Charlie Melancon’s loss to David Vitter in Louisiana; Vitter ran against Obama, disregarding Melancon.) Obama and the Democratic party must get something in gear—something like employment, jobs programs, and a focused communications department—to regain support among the Rust Belt and Midwestern voters.

What the Hell Happened?

Of course Republicans are claiming a mandate, but that’s ridiculous (and not at all supported by this CBS exit poll). We think the election results are more a matter of a sick economy (see below), Democrats’ failure to clearly explain and promote their accomplishments, and massive GOP and conservative negative advertising + 24/7 Fox News propaganda (aka the Republican Noise Machine). While Republicans insist the election results are a “referendum on Obama’s agenda” and “the voice of the American people,” let’s not forget that the GOP Tea Party candidates’ ads and secret, shadow groups’ attacks on Democrats were funded by millions of dollars from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Spending on congressional campaigns was expected to reach $4 billion. The GOP started campaigning around the inauguration; the Democrats, preoccupied with legislative accomplishments (see below), were late to the game. Further, remember that the so-called Tea Party, though it had grass-roots origins, has largely been co-opted and the Tea Party as it is now is not a people’s movement in the traditional sense: it is corporate-sponsored, establishment-driven, not grass-roots but astroturf. Ask Dick Armey and the billionaire Koch brothers. So much for “the voice of the American people.”

And “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” Comparisons with the 1994 midterms (after Clinton’s first 18 months) are common, but the economy is far worse now. A closer comparison—which Republicans don’t mention—would be 1982, after Reagan’s first 18 months, when the unemployment rate was about 10 percent: Democrats gained 27 seats, cementing their majority. In 1994 unemployment was about 5.6 percent. It is now about 9.6 percent, with some 15 million people out of work, and that’s only counting the people who have not given up in despair and not counting the under-employed (those working part-time instead of full-time). Reporter Robert Scheer says that for some 50 million Americans, either they’ve lost their homes through foreclosures or their home values are underwater: the amounts owed on their mortgages exceed the property’s market value. (We recommend Sheer’s new book, The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.)

Need we add that the Republicans have done nothing to help create jobs, but instead have blocked extensions of unemployment insurance, voted against tax breaks for small businesses—often voting against their own ideas—and massively resisted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus). They wanted to intensify the economic pain and thwart the president in order to regain power. This will be their strategy for the next two years as well. Gird your loins.

Much Accomplished, Much More to Be Done

This blog has complained possibly too much about what the president and the Democrats have not done. Perhaps most frustrating, though, is that the Democrats in Congress and the White House failed to communicate to the nation the astonishingly productive legislative record that they have accomplished over the past 21 months. With bill after bill, the Donkey kicked ass, but you’d never know it from them.

On Monday, Nov. 1, The Rachel Maddow Show produced a 15-minute segment highlighting the many accomplishments of the 111th Congress. The list is impressive—“the most legislatively productive 21 months in decades”—and we only wish the DNC had boasted far and wide about these bills. With more effective messaging (and a more aggressive focus on job creation, of course), the Dems could have countered the GOP distortions and rallied stronger base support and thus invigorated voter turnout.

This Is What a Functioning Congress Looks Like

Take a look at these achievements (and spread the good word):

  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help victims of pay discrimination—especially women—challenge unequal pay. Signed by President Obama January 29, 2009.
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 expanded health insurance coverage to more than 4 million children and pregnant women. Signed by President Obama February 4, 2009.
  • Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (2009), giving about $6 billion over 5 years and increasing the number of full-time and part-time national service (AmeriCorps) volunteers from 75,000 to 250,000. Creates new programs focused on special areas like strengthening schools, improving health care for low-income communities, boosting energy efficiency and cleaning up parks, etc. Signed by President Obama April 21, 2009.
  • Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (2009) sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), described by Money magazine as “ best friend a credit card user ever had.” Credit Card Bill of Rights signed by President Obama May 22, 2009.
  • College student loan reform, March 2010: as part of the health care reform legislation, a provision “that would cut funding to private student lenders and redirect billions of dollars in expected savings into grants to needy students” (W.Post).
  • Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave FDA power to regulate tobacco. Signed by President Obama June 22, 2009.
  • Hate Crimes Prevention Act (aka Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act), made it a federal crime to commit assault based on victim’s gender, sexual orientation, etc. Signed by President Obama Oct. 28, 2009.
  • Car Allowance Rebate System (aka “Cash for Clunkers”): Begun in June 2009, and by August the auto industry was reporting strong sales—only about a half year after GM and Chrysler were bailed out by Washington. Boosted sales of safer and more fuel-efficient cars, helping clear the air and stimulating the economy.
  • Veterans benefited from the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010, and the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010. The American Legion said “in our view the real successes [of the 111th Congress] were the passage of bills that affected nearly every veteran in America.”

All this is even before the big-ticket items of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka The Stimulus), the monumental (and incremental) Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (health care reform: click here for healthcare.gov), and the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010), which included establishment of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, presently being (unofficially) headed by Harvard law professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren.

And all of this was done with virtually no help from the Republicans in Congress. (Honorable Exception: Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah was one of the authors of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.)

Oh, and while all this was happening—you’d never know it to listen to the Noise Machine (or the Democratic Party)—Democrats actually reduced the deficit. The U.S. deficit shrank 9% in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010, the fastest one-year deficit reduction since 1984. The budget shortfall of $1.294 trillion was down $122 billion from the previous fiscal year. The deficit’s ratio to economic output fell to 8.9 percent of the gross domestic product, down from an even 10 percent of GDP in fiscal 2009. What you also never hear from Republicans is how there was a budget surplus when George W. Bush took office in 2001 that had vanished before September 11.

This is a legislative record to be very proud of, and we are grateful to the House and Senate members who took difficult but principled votes in the public interest but who, for reasons large and small, complex and simple, did not win reelection. We regret that the DNC and the White House did not alert the nation about all the good policy work they were doing while the Republicans were busy hogging the microphones on cable TV.


Looking Forward to Pressing Onward

We anticipate gridlock, acrimony, more Republican Tea Party antics (cat fights and power struggles between Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, for example, and between Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell).

Today in his press conference President Obama said, “Let’s find those areas where we can agree.”

Oh yeah? How’s that going to work? Republicans have been repetitively transmitting “no compromise” messages for weeks now; longer, actually. In October Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” And John Boehner, the likely speaker of the House, says of Obama’s agenda, “We’re going to do everything—and I mean everything we can do—to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.”



It is perverse and dismaying that in the two years since a near-catastrophic economic collapse they helped bring about, a Party of No that has done nothing but stand in the way of efforts to repair damages they caused or enabled—wars, deficits, deregulation—is rewarded by impatient, fearful, stressed-out voters whose anger that party has deliberately and cynically inflamed.

Dismaying but also energizing: we’re not going to let them get away with the distortions, and we’ll be pressing the White House and Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders to aggressively call out the GOP’s lies and force the Republicans into votes that will show what they’re really made of. We’ll urge Reid and the president to assertively propose jobs and infrastructure and energy programs: let the GOP be seen in broad daylight saying no to jobs bills in the name of curbing the deficits they created.

This election was not a great rebuke of the Democratic party or of the president’s agenda (again, see the CBS exit poll), but rather a predictable response to prolonged and widespread unemployment and economic anxiety. Further, as the president acknowledged, many voters may have misinterpreted the administration’s emergency response to the economic crisis—support of TARP for Wall Street and the auto industry bailouts, for example—as a “big government over-reach” agenda, as if that was what Obama had wanted to do all along. Where would people get that idea?

. . . I think it’s understandable that folks said to themselves, you know, maybe this is the agenda, as opposed to a response to an emergency. And that’s something that I think everybody in the White House understood was a danger. We thought it was necessary, but I’m sympathetic to folks who looked at it and said this is looking like potential overreach.

In addition, there were a bunch of price tags that went with that. And so, even though these were emergency situations, people rightly said, gosh, we already have all this debt, we already have these big deficits . . .

The president has delivered on a lot of campaign promises, but millions are still out of work. The Republicans will not deliver on jobs, either, unless they suddenly convert to New Deal–type employment programs. Of course they will not. They have no agenda but to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest and to serve the corporations who paid for their campaign ads, and to oppose Obama at all times. Just watch.

We also anticipate keeping our sleeves rolled up. We will try to help build support for President Obama’s National Infrastructure Bank idea, which he mentioned again today in his press conference. When asked how he and the government could push forward with job creation measures that the GOP would oppose, the president replied that traditionally investments in infrastructure programs have bipartisan appeal, and he will press ahead on that initiative with congressional leaders. We like that idea very much. We’ll have his back, and we’ll be pushing Congress, too. (Connecticut Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is one of the principal “parents” of this idea. Obama has been talking it up since at least February 2008. See “Barack, You’re Totally Our Infrastructure Hero.”)

More deep thoughts to come as we ponder and regroup . . .

What do you think?






A Failure to Communicate—Not a Failure to Govern