Saturday, November 06, 2010

Democratic Political Playbook (Revised, 2010)

It shouldn't come as any surpise that the "Red Wave" did, as predicted, wash ashore in Washington, DC after polls closed on the 2010 midterm elections last Tuesday. Although Democrats managed to hang on to 51 Senate seats, they lost their "house" (a trauma all-too-familiar to many of their constituents). Republican, Tea Party and Independent Representatives now hold a 239-185 majority in the House of Representatives, a change that will almost certainly introduce a whole new variant of "gridlock" politics into our already severly dysfunctional civic family. Because we have plenty of people in this country (most employed by the Fourth Estate) eager to point fingers of blame and reference questionable social-science-y explanations and/or cry like beauty pageant winners, I'll leave all the hyperbole to those who are paid handsomely to perform it. I'm not happy with the results, but... well, that's democracy.

So, what do we do now? Here are a few of my humble suggestions to those who purport to represent me:

(1) Be Aggressive. B-E-Aggressive. B-E A-GG-R-E-SS-IVE.
Pace Jon Stewart, I'm not so sure that the "you go, then I go", let's-play-nice political strategy is working so well for us. Obama basically inherited an 8-yr-old pile of stinking, festering, rotten refuse when he took office and, bless his heart, he's done a lot to clean up the mess in the LESS THAN TWO YEARS that he's been in office. But I, like many, worry that he's spent to much time trying to reach across the aisle and make nice, and not enough time trying to actually make good on his promises from two years ago. (Why, oh why, Mr. President, is Guantanamo Bay STILL open?!) Compromise is preferable, of course, when it's possible. There's no shame in opting for the Good, the True and the Right when it's not, though. And speaing of Gitmo...

(2) Keep your promises.
I know the "big" promises are hard to make good on in such a short amount of time-- things like "changing the way government is done"-- but the people who I voted for two years ago have dropped the ball on too many of the do-able promises as well. Like closing Gitmo. And reversing DADT. Or providing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. Or enacting Cap and Trade. And whatever happened to the annual "State of the World" Address that Obama promised to give?

(3) Show the depth of your love for poor and working people.
Cornel West had it right when he challenged Obama, shortly after the 2008 election, to stay true to the long and noble history of the Democratic Party's representation of the underrepresented. There are a lot of poor and working people in this country who hoped with their votes for a change they could believe in two years ago. Now, many of those poor and working people have changed into poor, unemployed and homeless people. One of the reasons that the Tea Party has resonated so strongly with Middle America is because they have stuck, relentlessly, to their "lower taxes" message. Given that the Tea Party's version of "caring" is captured in the questionably-compassionate slogan "don't tread on me," the Left ought to be embarrassed to lose that ground.

(4) Don't panic.
You win some, you lose some. A glimpse at American political history shows that when the sitting President's party also has control of the House and the Senate, a reversal is on its way. The midterm election signaled a significant shift in voters' sentiments, but the GOP resurgence didn't quite rise to the level of a public mandate. So, let's learn our lesson, make our halftime adjustments (suggested above), and come back to play the second half with fewer penalties and a better game strategy. There was enough panic and vitriol generated in the midterm campaign season, so (despite whatever other mild concerns I may have about it) it's now time to rally to restore sanity. We've only got a couple more years until the world comes to an end, after all.

At the risk of sounding too much like a stereotypical coach in one of those feel-good, come-from-behind sports movies: Let's focus on the fundamentals. Forget about winning or losing. Play "our" game. Come together as a team. Remember what got us here.


anotherpanacea said...

I agree with all of these but the first. Aggression won't accomplish anything and will make it easier for the Republicans to stall the rest of this agenda. I think we can distinguish civility from centrism, and that the President has done a good job being civil without allowing himself to be pulled to the ever-receding center.

But the fact remains that the President can't pass legislation himself: he needs the House of Representatives, and that means he needs to be bipartisan.

By the way, there's a great little essay making the rounds which explains among other things why we should ignore mandate talk:

Lorenzo said...

It seems to be one of the rules of Western politics that, when the left side of politics wins, it has a mandate but when the right side of politics wins, mandate talk is immediately "deconstructed". Just as when Democrats in Congress obstructed Dubya's agenda, that was their patriotic duty/democracy-in-action but when Republicans in Congress obstruct President Obama's agenda, that is their destructive negativism.

Yes, I get that academics and intellectuals (and journalists) are mainly on the left, but the principle of reciprocity is a good analytical starting place.

As for gridlock, that was what the Founding Fathers were after. Gridlock is good for stock market returns, for example.

Obama's worst error was something not a lot of those highly paid hyperbolic commentators are going to talk about -- failing to move quickly in appointing people to the Fed vacancies. But monetary policy is not politically "sexy", merely important and difficult.

anotherpanacea said...

The whole point to Arrow's Impossibility Theorem is that neither left nor right claims to a mandate FROM ELECTIONS are legitimate, which is as often a problem for liberals as conservatives. However, claims to a mandate from polls may be more legitimate, even when the polls suggest those polled want contradictory or impossible things. That's the difference between legitimacy and justice, I guess.

By the way, the data about stock returns is far from clear in the modern period of partisan division.

DOCTOR J said...

@Lorenzo: For what it's worth, I don't think I've ever claimed that the Left enjoyed a "madate" from any election win. And I also agree that obstructionism is obstructionism, full stop.

However, I also don't think that what the Founding Fathers were looking for was "gridlock." Checks and balances? Yes. A protection for the minority against the capriciousness of the majority? Yes. But "gridlock"? No way.

Sure, I'll agree that economic policy is not "sexy," at least not to me, but that's mostly because I don't understand many of its nuances. That doesn't mean I don't agree that it's important.

I can only assume that your jab at "academics and intellectuals" is meant to include me... though I would (humbly) protest that I bear little resemblance to your characterizations of them here.