Following Martha Coakley’s loss in Massachusetts, Obama will no doubt get a lot of advice to move to the center, to compromise more, to give up any hope for the progressive agenda he was elected to deliver.
But that advice is totally wrong-headed! If he wants to be remembered as anything other than an ineffectual one-term president, he and his weak-kneed party need to seize the debate, push the agenda, and present themselves once more as the party of change. Maybe they should even go back to Spiro Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativsim” and pin that label on the GOP.
It is unconscionable that even the last few months when they’ve had their precious 60-vote supermajority, they’ve kowtowed to the right and let the party of intransigence frame and control the debate, and the votes. Now that they’ve lost that cushion, they’ve got only one hope of staying viable. Here’s the briefest outline:
Stop running crappy candidates! The Dems lost two governorships and for goodness sake Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat because they keep running candidates who don’t stand for anything, do little campaigning, and expect their money and connections to carry them to victory. Did they learn nothing from the John Kerry debacle? Or from Dukakis in 1988? I live in Massachusetts and can tell you that Coakley ran a terrible campaign.
Be the framers of the debate. Show the people how you proposed the change Obama ran on, and over and over again, the Republicans, the party of the failed policies of the past, have blocked your way no matter how many bipartisan overtures you make. Build momentum in the streets as well as in the boardrooms. Show that these Republicans, and the Blue Dog Democrats who vote with them, are blocking the way. Then mount effective campaigns by effective progressive candidates to get them OUT in November.
Refuse to tolerate the shenanigans of people like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. The Republicans managed to get a lot of their agenda through with a very close majority during the Bush years, because they held together. Make it clear that the party will support primary challenges(and general election challenges) from the Left.
Play hardball. When Nelson, Lieberman and Snowe threatened the health bill unless it dropped all its substance, the party’s progressive stalwarts should have been out there shouting very publicly that dropping the public option meant dropping THEIR vote. Even Bernie Sanders wasn’t willing to go there.
THIS strategy will result in one year writing good laws that won’t get passed, throwing the bums out, consolidating power, and having an amazing third and fourth year. Franklin Roosevelt used this strategy successfully in his first term, showed the public that he wanted to make real change, and swept back into office not just for a second term but for a third and a fourth.
Obama, as a former community organizer, knows how to do this. He did it effectively in his campaign. He did it in the first weeks of his administration, and built a culture of hope. And then he started back-door dealing, chipping away at the agenda, providing giveaways to Wall Street, maintaining the worst aspects of the Bush foreign policy…is it any wonder his constituency feels deserted and abandoned? And that hope crashed and burned, leaving people bitter, angry, and unmotivated to vote for weak-kneed scoundrels–which is how they are perceiving the Democrats.