A Tragedy in Two Acts

Hat tip to John F. Drew Westen:

The question today is whether Democrats can channel the populist anger we are seeing around the country this late in the game. The answer is that we’d better try. Having recently tested messages on economics and jobs, including how to talk about deficits and taxes — widely assumed to be Democrats’ Achilles Heel, particularly now — there is little question that if Democrats and progressives from center to left simply say what they believe in ways that are evocative, values-driven, and speak to people’s worries and anger, many stand a good chance of surviving November, particularly when their opponents have nothing to say other than warmed-over rhetoric about cutting taxes to millionaires and multinationals and fiscal restraint except where it cuts into profits of their campaign contributors. Even the most evocative boilerplate conservative messages fall flat against honest messages that speak to the need to get Americans working again. And on issue after issue, no message is more resonant right now than one that sides with working and middle class Americans and small business owners against special interests, big business, and their lobbyists.

But actions speak louder than words, and Americans want to see action. It may be too late for the kind of jobs bill we should have seen a year and a half ago, but it isn’t too late for Democrats to go on the offensive against the Republicans — virtually all of them — who opposed extending unemployment insurance to millions of Americans who were thrown out of work by the Republicans’ corporate sponsors. It isn’t too late for Democrats to contrast their support for the highly popular aid to state and local governments that just saved the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, and police all over the country with Republicans’ desire to throw them out onto the street. It isn’t too late to make a voting issue out of the bill the Republicans are stalling that would give small businesses a fighting chance in an economy stacked against them, and to make clear that one party stands for small businesses, which create 75 percent of the new jobs in this country, and the other party stands for big businesses that outsource American jobs and offshore their profits to avoid paying their fair share of American taxes. It’s not too late to pass a bill that would limit credit card interest rates to a reasonable percent above the rate at which credit is made available to credit card companies. It’s not too late to pass the first badly need “fix” to the health care reform act to demonstrate to Americans that Democrats mean it when they say this was just the first step, namely a law that stops insurance companies from increasing their premiums by 40 percent while cutting the size of their networks by 50-75 percent, which violates the principles of affordability and choice that were so essential to efforts to sell health care reform to the public. It’s not too late to vow to change the rules of the Senate to prevent the use of the filibuster to give every special interest veto power over every important piece of legislation. It’s not too late to introduce legislation that’s been on hold in both the House and Senate to guarantee fair elections, so that the voice of everyday Americans is heard over the voice of the special interests that finance political campaigns.

On every one of these issues, a strong populist message trounces anything the other side can say. But Democrats need to play offense. They need to take up-or-down votes on bill after bill, including those they expect the other side to block, knowing that every one of those votes has the leverage of a campaign ad behind it. They need to change the narrative from what sounds to the average American like a whiny and impotent one — “the Republicans won’t let us do it” — to a narrative of strength in numbers shared with their constituents. And they need to make every election a choice between two well-articulated approaches to governance — and to offer their articulation of both sides’ positions and values.

That leads to a final point. What Democrats have needed to offer the American people is a clear narrative about what and who led our country to the mess in which we find ourselves today and a clear vision of what and who will lead us out. That narrative would have laid a roadmap for our elected officials and voters alike, rather than making each legislative issue a seemingly discrete turn onto a dirt road. That narrative might have included — and should include today — some key elements: that if the economy is tumbling, it’s the role of leadership and government to stop the free-fall; that if Wall Street is gambling with our financial security, our homes, and our jobs, true leaders do not sit back helplessly and wax eloquent about the free market, they take away the dice; that if the private sector can’t create jobs for people who want to work, then we’ll put Americans back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and schools; that if Big Oil is preventing us from competing with China’s wind and solar energy programs, then we’ll eliminate the tax breaks that lead to dysfunctional investments in 19th century fuels and have a public-private partnership with companies that will create the clean, safe fuels of the 21st century and the millions of good American jobs that will follow.

That’s what Democrats stand for. It’s time they said it.

Allegedly. I often wonder what the Democrats stand for.

11 thoughts on “A Tragedy in Two Acts

  1. It’s what liberals/progressives stand for. The Dumbocracts have very few if any of them who really matter.

  2. Dean was an aggressive member of the Obama fan base, trashing Clinton in an egregious fashion every chance he could.

    His complaints are irrelevant, until he fesses up. He’s just one more moron asshole who created this mess.

  3. Obama told Brian Williams on Sunday what he stands , as Joan Walsh writes:

    …here’s what Obama said were his priorities for doing his “job” for the rest of his term:

    “I think the next couple of years, we’ve got to focus on debt and deficits. We’ve got to focus on making sure that we make the recovery stronger. And a lot of that is attracting private investment. Making sure that these companies who are making good profits are actually seeing the opportunities out there in a whole range of new areas and new ventures.”

    He mentions debt and deficits first, and emphasizes “private investment” as the way “to make the recovery stronger”?

    Not only that, Joan, Obama thinks he will make sure those companies will see all those opportunities out there…somewhere.

    Dude! When consumers have no money to make purchases, the only buyers are the Uberwealthy and those with jobs who believe they’ll keep them. Who they gonna sell to*, dude?

    Then, she quote John Judis who:

    …contrasted Obama and the Democrats’ woes in 2010 with Ronald Reagan and the GOP’s struggles in 1982, when a stubborn recession was depressing Reagan’s approval ratings and portending midterm doom for his party. Did Reagan begin to parrot the concerns of his critics in the other party, the way Obama is now bleating about “debt and deficits”?

    No, John, St. Ronnie did not parrot anything from the “other party,” but he was a genuine Republican when he ran for president. Who can say with any certainty that Obama sees the Repubs as “the other party”? Rather, he may be a closeted Repub himself.

    And he wants to be this centuries St. Ronnie.

    *”Where ya gonna go, sweetie?” Not to vote for faux Democrats.

  4. Obama will never Can the Cat Food Commission – it’s his legacy, it’s his homage to St. Ronnie.

  5. Democrats can’t go the populist route. Obama wants to be the next Ronald Reagan. He said so early on in the campaign, and so-called progressives swooned.

    Carolyn Kay

  6. And I left out some end tags on blockquote. Grrrrrr.

    Grafs begining with “Not only that, Joan” and “Dude!”, plus the last three grafs should be at regular left margin.

    And “centuries” should be “century’s” ===ACK!

    Oh, goddess of Edit, bestow your mercy upon me. Or at least make me stop listening to news and trying to proofread….

  7. jawbone, Stephen King says, “To write is human; to edit, divine.”

    I think he was being sarcastic, but wevs. Write away. If you really want an editor or a proofreader, let me know (or Susie, for that matter).

    As for the current clusterbomb, it’s pretty obvious that the Obama administration has NO INTEREST in the democratic party agenda, or democrats for that matter, and it’s a little bit funny to watch rank-and-filers just now waking up to that fact. The only thing I find odd is the seeming lack of concern among the administration over what a republican congress would bring, that is, a never-ending series of hearings leading to an inevitable impeachment. Do they really have so much confidence that they can sail through that to victory in 2012? Oh, hell, I suppose they do.

  8. Brendan,

    Getting it wrong on Obama isn’t the issue. Getting wrong on Clinton, who would have been a far superior president as well as a real liberal, is.

    Until he says he backed the wrong candidate, nothing he says is anything but more bullshit.

    He’s a creep who went a long with a misogynist campaign that relied on disenfranchising voters to win. That’s all he is.

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