There will be a lot of discussion of what the Democrats could have done to forestall or mitigate the collapse in the House. Most of will focus on messaging or tactical considerations. But, ultimately, I think it stems from the Democrats have forgotten (or never cosnidering in the first place) the Mad Biologist’s Cardinal Rule of Politics: people have to like this crap.
The issue isn’t that Democrats used the wrong electoral and political tactics, it’s that the problem was far more fundamental than that: the policies were dreadful. Healthcare reform, while it is an improvement, wasn’t what heatlhcare reform advocates wanted–why not give everyone an opportunity to buy into Medicare (and CHIP). People get that.
Wages are stagnant, and the Democrats haven’t addressed that well. The employment deficit in its strictest version is around ten percent, U6 unemployment is around 18-19 percent, and, if we calculated unemployment the way we did during the Great Depression, unemployment could be as high as 22 percent. It would be worse, if not for the stimulus, but it’s still dreadful–and fearful–out there.
Then there’s the collapse of Big Shitpile, wherein a lot of people lost a large chunk of their savings, followed by a bailout for banks. When one out of eight homeowners is in foreclosure, the appropriate response is not the HAMP bust-out.
And let’s not forget the unabated march of rent extraction: all of the user fees, nickel-and-diming, the frustrating economic death by a thousand cuts.
This is an abbreviated list of problems, yet Democrats failed to even address these. Lance Mannion put it succinctly:
None of the beneficial and necessary and basically progressive things the President and the Democrats accomplished over the last twenty-one months did most people any direct good.
None of it put money in our pockets. None of it relieved of us of any financial worries or burdens. None of it gave us new jobs. None of it made our lives easier, cheaper, or more comfortable or made our immediate futures appear any brighter.
Obviously a great many people have been helped. But for the vast majority of us, things are pretty much exactly as they were in December of 2008.
The President spent the last twenty-one months doing the responsible thing, and the wise thing, and, actually, the principled thing (if you understand that his principles are not Robert or Ted Kennedy’s) but the lesson from this election is that voters don’t care if you do the responsible thing or the wise thing or the principled thing.
They only care if you do the right thing by them.
People needed help the day the President was sworn in.
What has amazed me about the entire Obama term is the utter lack of self-interest by most Democratic politicians and political operatives. I get that combating our use of torture won’t be popular–sadly, too many people either want to torture our captives or just don’t give a shit. But everyone has to make the rent or the mortgage. People have savings that they don’t want to evaporate. Healthcare matters–and becomes more important as you get older.
But some very key people (and that includes Obama) have undergone ideological capture by the ‘austerians’, the deficit ‘hawks’, and those who conflate Wall Street with the real economy (because trades every eleven seconds is definitely a reflection of legitimate economic needs). In the case of Treasury Secretary Geithner and Senator Kent Conrad, this is largely ideologically motivated (Conrad is nuts, and Geithner, due to his NY Fed background, was co-opted long ago). Ben Nelson is a creature of insurance companies and the 400 wealthiest families in Nebraska. Summers is also bought and paid for, but he also thinks he can do politics better than the professionals (his experience at Harvard notwithstanding). To boot, his instincts and priorities are not middle-class friendly.
Last night was the culmination of a decades-long move by Democrats to be more ‘corporate-friendly’ at the expense of the majority of Americans (thankfully, many of the Blue Dog collaborators lost last night).
As I’ve written many times, people have to like this crap–and they don’t.
Now, the Democrats are left in the unenviable position of doing the right thing and helping Republicans hold their seats in spite of themselves, or hurting the country by letting the GOP be the GOP.
It’s going to be a shitty next two years.
And that’s before the House congressional ‘investigations’ kick into high gear.