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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Democrats, Be Bold. Do Not Freak Out.


Stand up straight. No cringing, no cowering.

The loss of the Massachusetts senate seat is dismaying but unfortunately not surprising. What worries us is that Democrats will learn the wrong lessons from the loss—they have a way of doing that. Some have said “we should slow down, ease off.” But to all the members of Congress who have phoned in to ask our advice, we have one clear, concise bit of counsel: Be boldly populist and fight for the ordinary voters. To hell with what pleases Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup. Wake up from the sweet dream of “bipartisanship.” If they’re going to call you a “socialist,” then by all means earn the title. Press harder on the progressive issues of health care reform, oversight of the financial industry, and aggressive jobs programs (WPA, CCC style), and for God’s sake speak up for the positive role of government (or call it the public sector). Focus the message. (See Jeffrey Feldman’s HuffPo column “The Lesson of the Lunch-Bucket Democrats.”)

Don’t douse the base with cold water. Remember how poorly Democrat Creigh Deeds fared in his bid for governorship of Virginia last November? Perhaps not. Few remember his name at all. He lost by 18 points. As Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos observed:

1. If you abandon Democratic principles in a bid for unnecessary “bipartisanship,” you will lose votes.

2. If you water down reform in favor of Blue Dogs and their corporate benefactors, you will lose votes.

3. If you forget why you were elected—health care, financial services, energy policy and immigration reform—you will lose votes.

Nation-Building Begins at Home

In November New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote a very cogent and actually inspiring piece of advice for the president, “More Poetry, Please,” that would benefit other Democrats too:

[Obama] has not tied all his programs into a single narrative that shows the links between his health care, banking, economic, climate, energy, education and foreign policies. Such a narrative would enable each issue and each constituency to reinforce the other and evoke the kind of popular excitement that got him elected. . . . His daring but discrete policies are starting to feel like a work plan that we have to slog through, and endlessly compromise over, just to finish for finishing’s sake—not because they are all building blocks of a great national project. . . . What is that project? What is that narrative? Quite simply it is nation-building at home. It is nation-building in America.

I am convinced that this kind of nation-building at home is exactly what Mr. Obama is trying to deliver, and should be his unifying call: We need universal health care because it would strengthen our social fabric and enable our businesses to better compete globally.

Drawing on ideas of national renewal written about by Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel, Friedman wrote, “Obama needs to carry the civic idealism of his campaign into his presidency. He needs a narrative that will get the same voters who elected him to push through his ambitious agenda — against all the forces of inertia and private greed.”

E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post seems to agree with some of Friedman’s point when he writes that the Democrats have failed to establish in the public consciousness the fact that it was conservative, anti-government ideas that got us into the economic predicament we’re in:

It’s also striking that most conservatives, through a method that might be called the audacity of audacity, have acted as if absolutely nothing went wrong with their economic theories. They speak and act as if they had nothing to do with the large deficits they now bemoan and say we will all be saved if only we return to the very policies that should already be discredited.

Toward the end of this interview with Keith Olbermann, The Nation’s Chris Hayes points out quite forcefully that the Wall Street titans have “skated away without any accountability,” and says that the White House should go populist in holding the financial industry accountable (not only between now and the midterm elections in November). For an even more thorough examination of how America’s demented politics has let the GOP get away with murder, see this Bill Moyers Journal piece with Thomas Frank, author of The Wrecking Crew and What’s the Matter with Kansas?

Democrats can, if they try, overturn these false frames of thinking (such as the notions that tax cuts are liberating, and that government oversight only makes things worse), though it will take persistence over years and  years. Contrary to Republicans’ accusations about the “liberal media,” the Washington establishment press appears wired for a GOP bias. This reframing and historical correction is something that President Barack Obama could do very well if he were not so smitten by the idea of “bipartisanship.”

There is one way in which it would behoove Democrats to be like Republicans—by being audacious and unified (try “the audacity of audacity”). We urge Dems not to try to be pale imitations of Republicans by blurring their positions, softening their stances, and taking no position other than a cringe.


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One Response to “Democrats, Be Bold. Do Not Freak Out.”

  1. Levees Not War Says:

    Hey, thanks. BTW, how’d you find us?

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