Josh Akman, Columnist
Ideology: Democrat | Writing from: Washington, DC
Democrats can find very little solace in the wake of the massacre that was the 2010 midterm elections. We lost. Badly. November 2nd was unquestionably a referendum on the President, and more specifically, the landmark legislation that, for now, defines his presidency. Sweeping and long overdue health reform was vilified from the very beginning, and the effect of some of its more outlandish criticisms (death panels, rationed care) seem to conclusively prove that there is indeed a such thing as bad publicity. Financial reform, aimed at regulating the same corporate greed that caused this economic collapse, never seemed to make the political impact that it should have. Cap-and-trade, one of the most mismanaged initiatives of 111th Congress, only served to trap the congressmen who voted for it. There is still no comprehensive, badly needed bill, and thanks to the Democrats’ bungling of the issue, there is little chance of one happening soon.
The Republican landslide of 2010 becomes more impressive when put into the context of where the GOP was just two years ago. With President Obama on the top of the ticket, the Democrats rewrote the political map and turned red states blue in ways that were astonishing, if not a bit unsustainable. Still, the Republicans regrouped. They returned to their roots of small government, individual responsibility (unless, of course, you’re gay and want to serve in the military or you’re a woman who wants reproductive rights). They ran on fiscal discipline, less debt and less taxes (despite not really explaining how we can have less debt and less taxes at the same time). As last Tuesday shows, it worked, and the Republicans now work with a House majority that seemed implausible just two short years ago.
So, the question is, where do the Democrats go from here? How can they make this stay in the minority a brief one? Just a few days after the midterms, with the dust from the landslide still settling and leadership jockeying barely underway, there are some clear ideas for the Democrats:
Democrats must elect new party leadership. When I heard Nancy Pelosi was running for minority leader, I reacted like most rational Democrats: “Are you F*%$ing kidding me?!” If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing multiple times and expecting a different result, this seems as crazy as can be. First, she’s one of the many reasons we’re now in the minority. Republicans were able to paint every Democratic candidate with the “Pelosi brush,” and Democrats were judged by the amount of time they voted with the Speaker. Sadly, some embattled Dems took to broadcasting the amount that they voted AGAINST her (if this wasn’t the beginning of the end of the Democratic majority in the House, then I don’t know what was). The new minority status requires a new public face for the party, one who is not seen as a rich, San Francisco liberal. The Speaker was a wonderful stateswoman for the party, a great representative of the caucus’s diversity, and she should be content to ride into the sunset with the legacy of being the first female Speaker. Instead, her run for Minority leader is a sad effort of a guest quite literally staying too long at the party. The Democrats need a strong fighter who is ready to wrestle with Speaker Boehner. James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American congressman in history, is perfect for the role.
Democrats need to better define their vision for the role of government. Republicans, in the minority, did a masterful job of defining their vision of government: the smaller, the better. Taxes will decrease, spending will decrease, and everyone wins. Except, of course, seniors, gay people and the environment. The Democrats’ toughest job in the minority will be explaining the other side of the coin, that government can be good. Big government doesn’t necessarily mean wasteful government, and if the government doesn’t invest in silly Democratic pet projects like protecting the environment and saving Social Security, then no one will. The Democrats lost this battle spectacularly; we made it look like taxing and spending was a wasteful power-grab instead of a necessary step to avoid a complete economic collapse. You know you’ve lost the public relations game when investing in infrastructure somehow becomes a bad thing.
Democrats got crushed at the polls. The American people made their choice loud and clear, and part of respecting that choice is establishing a new party leadership. This leadership has a tough job ahead of it, but by reaffirming our vision for the role of government, we can see to it that our stay in the minority is a brief one.