Thursday, January 21, 2010


I've seen Democrats as angry as they are now once before – in November and December of 2000. But although they were frustrated with the passivity of the Gore campaign, much of their anger was directed at George W. Bush. Right now, in contrast, Democrats aren't angry at Republicans. Every ounce of feeling they have is directed at the people who are supposed to represent them, the people who had – and still have! – historic majorities in Congress, yet act as though they're powerless. If Democrats can't show their supporters that they have some spine, those supporters won't be supporters anymore. This fall, they will decline to vote in huge numbers, and a bad midterm election will become a catastrophe. This is a moment of real crisis for Democrats when it comes to their base of support. And I've seen precious little evidence that they realize it.

-- Paul Waldman
Based on my unscientific sampling of opinions from friends and acquaintances and bloggers I read, it seems like there is an enormous anger in the Democratic party base -- not at Republicans, but at Democrats. For acting like spineless wimps. For running and cringing at the first sign of trouble. For not passing the damn Health Care Bill -- Senate version, in the House -- which, for all its deficiencies, is as close as we're going to get in the foreseeable future to decent health care in this country, and without which the Democrats are totally doomed in 2010.

Enormous anger.

Here's one of the best expressions of it I've seen, from (generally moderate and temperate) blogger Ezra Klein. I was going to excerpt it, but it's too good -- here's the whole damn thing:
It's worth taking a step back from health-care reform for a second. What Democrats are doing isn't just abandoning a particular policy issue. They're proving themselves unable to govern.

Democrats spent most of 2009 with 60 votes in the Senate and about 256 in the House. They had a popular new president who was following a disastrous Republican administration and a financial crisis. The opposition party was polling somewhere between foot fungus and spoiled meat. You don't get opportunities like this very often. The Senate majority, in fact, was larger than either party had enjoyed since the 1970s. And what have Democrats accomplished?

Well, not much. You can see a list here. A stimulus that was too small. Ted Kennedy's Serve America Act. Credit card regulations that were largely an acceleration of rules the Federal Reserve was going to impose anyway. I guess they almost passed a compromised health-care bill, but you don't go down in history for almosts.

If Democrats abandon health-care reform in the aftermath of Brown's victory, the lesson will be that they can't govern. No majority within the realm of reason will give them the votes to move their agenda swiftly and confidently. Even the prospect of the most significant legislative achievement in 40 years, an achievement that will save hundreds of thousands of lives, will not keep them from collapsing into chaos when they face adversity.

At that point, what's the pitch for voting for Democrats? That they agree with you? A plumber and I both agree that my toilet should work. But if he can't make it work, I'm not going to pay him any money or invite him into my home. Governance isn't just about ideology. It's also about competence and will. That's where Democrats are flagging.

You could argue that it's not fair to brand "Democrats" as at fault here. There's something to that. The leadership and the president would happily pass and sign legislation. But a party is as a party does. Democrats often run on the need to have enough votes to act. If they can't act even with those votes, then there's a real problem. Would Republicans be so terrorized if they were in a similar circumstance? The GOP forged ahead with its attempts to impeach Bill Clinton even after voters cut them down for it in the 1998 election. Those were some odd priorities, but at least the party was committed to the agenda it ran on. Democrats may not want to go quite that far in terms of party discipline, but they need to get a whole lot further than they are now.
There are a lot of similar posts around -- such as this one from Nate Silver, this one from Publius, the one from Paul Waldman I quoted at the top of this post, this one from Kevin Drum and his anonymous emailing friends, this Obama-focused one from Jonathan Cohn (who also penned this letter to nervous house Democrats), this one from Adam Serwer, this one from David Rees (who is writing as if channeling the Rude Pundit, fair warning), this one from M. J. Rosenberg, and so on and so forth.

Update: Paul Krugman offers his own version here, in his weekly NYT column. (via)

But the point is clear. Flawed as it is, the Senate legislation is now what's on offer. Universal health care is one of the great progressive goals -- has been for decades. The Democrats have a majority in the house. They could just fucking pass it.

And if they don't, if they're too cowardly to do that -- then what good are they? If they can't pass this with such large majorities -- when will they do anything?

Which is why good policy -- the bill is clearly better than the status quo, for all that it's not what I'd want (compromised in an always-futile hope to get Republican votes and in a pathetically necessary maneuver to get Lieberman's, Nelson's, et. al.) -- here meets good politics.

The Democrats will loose seats in November. Everyone gets that. (Most people get why, too: because the stimulus they passed was too small, chopped down from an already-too-small version to an even smaller one in order to placate preening centrists like Lieberman, Nelson, et. al., by a President who never seemed to take negotiation 101: ask for *more* than you want so that they can chop it down later. If they'd passed a sufficient stimulus -- one not only good enough to save us from depression (as the extant one did) but to actually put Americans back to work -- then people wouldn't be so angry and scared and they'd reward the party that did it, rather than the fear-merchants who caused the mess and are now pretending they didn't. It is, in brief, the Economy, stupid -- and the Dems listened to Larry Summers and not Paul Krugman, and were, therefore, stupid. End of story.)

They'll loose seats. But if they have something positive to run on -- a real accomplishment, like the health care bill -- they might loose fewer.

If all they have to run on is a year of trying and compromise, ending in pathetic failure, they will demoralize their base to the point where Sarah Palin could win the bluest district in the goddamn country.

They can still pull this one out. But god damn it, they better do it. Or they -- and the country -- and the world -- are all in really serious trouble.

Oh, and what can we do? Phone our representatives -- not Senators, our representatives -- and demand that they pass the Senate Bill. Like many of my friends and perhaps some of my Noble Readers, I live in a safely Democratic district where my Congressman can usually be counted on to do the right thing -- and am sometimes even frustrated I can't do more by phoning. Now is the time: everyone with a Democrat for a Representative should phone and demand they pass the Senate bill immediately. (Or even those with Republican Representatives, sure -- although it won't do any good, of course.)

There's just too damn much on the line.

Pass the bill.

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