What lessons will the Democrats learn from losing Ted Kennedy’s seat, as it appears they’re about to? What should they learn?
I suspect they’ll take as a lesson that they should never try to do anything the Republicans don’t want. “But a child could see that’ll fail,” do you say? I admit it. Since the Republicans want to concentrate power and wealth even more, and are willing to tear down as much of the country as necessary to make it happen, the list of things the Democrats would still be able to do would be empty. Which, after all, isn’t that different from what they actually do in practice.
The DLC Democrats will start talking about how silly the left is to want what all other developed countries have. They’ll rattle sabers about Iran, and pal around with the Liebermans, Joe and Avigdor. They’ll find an excuse to confront Russia and China politically, but without disturbing the profits of their corporate owners. In short, they’ll imitate the antics of the losing candidate in the last Presidential election.
Why? Well, that’s the point: it’s what the Democrats want to do, but they need an excuse. They’ve sold their souls to the same sectors of society that have long owned the Republican party; but unlike the Senator from my original home state, Mitch McConnell, and most of those he leads, the Democrats are still shy about letting their constituents know that. Probably because they’d lose their seats in the next election.
Sure, there are a few like Kucinich who don’t fit the mold, and some like Waxman who seem to be chomping at the bit to fight but are restrained by my Representative, the Speaker. But in general, the Democrats are the party of compromise, while the Republicans continue to use the tactic they learned in Reagan’s time of demanding eight times what they want. The Democrats agree to split the difference (again); the Republicans walk away with four times what they wanted, and the Democrats feel good about themselves. Or as Robert Reich put it, the discussion moves to the right because the Democrats keep meeting the Republicans half-way while the Republicans stay put.
The country hasn’t moved to the right, as the polls make clear; but the political conversation moves ever farther from what real people know is happening. The empire is ending; we’ve allowed corporations to ship our economic pre-eminence overseas to the lowest bidder; and as a result, as Greider says, the good times we recently thought would roll forever will never come back. They’re gone for good, and our job is to adjust, not to waltz around the world destroying other countries in a futile attempt to prove we’re still BMOC.
In that light, the lesson the Democrats should learn from Coakley’s apparently imminent loss is that they should have followed through on the promises they made. If Obama had ever even looked like he was making an effort to fight for at least one of the things he told us he’d do, the Democrats would not be in danger of losing Congress again like they did in 1994; but they caved to the corporations and the super-rich far too obviously and quickly. They needed at least to stage a credible fight that played out over time in which they pretended to confront the corporations everyone knows are causing the problems. As it was, Obama made back-room deals with the worst actors, then left Congress to take the blame.
Obama’s above-the-fray strategy got him what he was going for — a bill, no matter what it includes — but it lost him his base. He might get some of the votes back later if he does something they value, but he’s lost the glow of adoration that followed him through his introduction to the national consciousness. That can’t be recouped, and he’ll never again have the momentum he had on entering office. A great opportunity wasted, at a time when we won’t have many more.