jimsleeper.com » Dems won in 2008, but here’s why they’ll lose in 2010

Dems won in 2008, but here’s why they’ll lose in 2010

Last night in Massachusetts, America didn’t get what it needs. But Democrats got what they deserved.

Republicans lost in 2008 because they’d spent many years implementing clear, extreme economic and foreign policies thoroughly enough for real life to prove them bogus. They hadn’t just won an election in 1980 with “Great Communicator” Ronald Reagan’s terrific campaign on behalf of their ideas; they’d then proceeded to give us enough of what even George H.W. Bush called “voodoo economics” and enough of national-security statism to show everyone what those strategies are actually worth in New Orleans and Baghdad, on Main Street and in a global economy that is no longer an American protectorate.

Democrats are losing now for an entirely different reason. Although in 2008 they, too, won a national election with great communicator riding on the other side’s  implosion, the Democrats, unlike Republicans, haven’t even tried to implement their promised strategies seriously enough for real life to prove them bogus – or, like Social Security, indispensable to Americans’ freedom and safety.

Why haven’t they done that?

Why did not only Howard Dean but even Chris Matthews lament last night that Democrats haven’t given Americans an activist government strong enough to build big things that work and to flummox predators who would keep them from working?

Was it because, unlike Ronald Reagan, a simplifier and a believer who surrounded himself with neoconservative and right-wing zealots, Barack Obama is a nuanced thinker and a conciliator who has surrounded himself with operators and naïve, “The World is Flat” neoliberals?

It’s partly that. But even more, I think, it’s that most Americans really do fear proactive, social-democratic solutions more than they fear the Republicans’ easy, negative, market-driven non-solutions. The latter are a kind of default position in American politics. The social-democratic solutions aren’t, and never will be, until people are beguiled or nudged – or forced by crisis — into living with them long enough to realize that some of them are more conducive to freedom and safety than the Republicans’ answers.

Even Social Security, which Americans refused to let George W. Bush privatize, wasn’t as popular as you might think when it was first created. People had to live with it for a generation or two before they realized that it strengthens, not weakens, them. This reflects a problem deep in our political culture.

That’s why I understand but can’t join with those who beat up on Obama as if some failure in his character were to blame. But it’s also why I don’t go all the way with those who want us all to cry, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” “Stand and Deliver!” “No passaran!” “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

Sure, if “the people” can create enough new facts on the ground, as FDR’s Democratic majority did in creating Social Security amid unprecedented disaster, we must strive to do that now, too – and fight to keep it. But beneath the current events run undercurrent events and crises that can be met only with newer, deeper, more potent strategies of persuasion.

I don’t know what those strategies might be  – I’ve done my best to sketch some principles at http://www.jimsleeper.com/?p=15 —  but they aren’t now on offer from Democrats or the left, and they haven’t yet been driven home to us by a crisis worse than most Americans have encountered since the 1930s.

I do think that such a crisis is coming. But until it gets here or newer, deeper strategies arise, many people in the not-always-right-wing suburbs that went Republican last night will be easily played because they’re still in denial about what it will really take to relieve their anxieties about the country and themselves. Those of us who are social democrats will continue to find ourselves outside the country’s default position, and we’ll be left talking mainly to ourselves and to a thin penumbra that waxes and wanes.

Conservative Republicans were once this marginal, too. But because their ideas found openings in the American default position, their Great Communicator could take them further than ours. Democrats, knowing this, capitulated on policy even before they began to fight.

That’s why, even though America didn’t get what it needs last night, Democrats got what they deserved.


The Road Not Taken in Massachusetts

By David Warsh 

www.economic principals.com

So a Republican won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat last week. Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley by a solid margin. Before you file away the result as the inevitable consequence of widespread revulsion at health care reform, let me suggest an alternative and, to my mind, much more plausible interpretation.

The Democrats would have won if they had nominated the candidate who came in second to Coakley in the December 8 primary, Congressman Michael Capuano. Capuano, 58, represents the Eighth Congressional District, the constituency which sent John F. Kennedy and Tip O’Neill to the House of Representatives.

Scrappy, sophisticated, politically experienced, Capuano almost certainly would have recognized the threat posed by the little-known Republican challenger and, in all likelihood, turned it aside through a combination of offense and defense. I can’t prove this, naturally, but my sense is that most political sophisticates around the Bay State now would agree (Tea Party enthusiasts excepted).

So why didn’t Capuano get the nomination? A combination of identity politics, a short campaign, and the presence in the race of two other long-shot male candidates: private equity magnate Steven Pagliuca, and City Year founder Alan Khazei.

Coakley inherited the determined support of women’s groups that had campaigned hard for Hillary Rodham Clinton the year before. (Clinton won the Massachusetts primary but lost out at the convention.) In December, Coakley handily won the Democratic nomination with 36 percent of the vote, compared to Capuano’s 21 percent, and 14 percent each for Pagliuca and Khazei,

A prosecutor for more than twenty years, Coakley turned out to lack strong political instincts. Brown ran a strong campaign, comparing himself to John F. Kennedy as a tax-cutter, and last week defeated her, costing the Democrats their supermajority in the Senate and dramatically altering expectations among members of both parties.

So what’s the moral? Obama should recognize the role that chance played in the event. If the nomination somehow had gone the other way, the election could just as easily have been a victory for him. Certainly he must now make a number of adjustments. But rather than make a slew of concessions, he should seek to stay the course on health care in Congress, where the Democrats still have solid majorities in both houses.

For citizens of Massachusetts, it means staying alert. Conservative Republicans have won several state-wide elections in the last thirty years, as political consultant Mark Horan pointed outlast week in The Boston Globe. Perhaps the most relevant one in the present instance came in 1978, when supply-sider Edward J. King upset first-term Gov. Michael Dukakis in the early stages of what came to be known as the Tax Revolt. The state then voted narrowly for Ronald Reagan in 1980, but Dukakis returned to oust King in 1982, towards the end of a deep recession.   

Brown must stand for re-election in 2012 (two and a half years is the remaining portion of Kennedy’s term). Like Ed King before him, Brown is not an old-style moderate Republican, like former Sen. Edward Brooke; nor does he present himself as social liberal in the mold of Mitt Romney and Bill Weld, each of them repudiated by voters in Senate campaigns, in 1994 and 1996.

The unexpected up-for-grabs conditions that governed this year’s Democratic primary campaign won’t obtain in 2012. It will be a very interesting year.