At the time of this writing, I’m watching John Boehner talk about the new House majority, and how they’re going to tell the president to “change course”. To his left, I see MSNBC’s projections of a 245-190 Republican majority in the House, and hold out hope that the Senate will at least hold onto a tenuous grasp on that chamber.
As I look at it all, I can’t help but think: Democrats, you earned this.
The Republicans controlled Washington from 1994 to 2006, and in four short years the blue party managed to take what was arguably the biggest wave of hope for change and convert it into apathy and the Tea Party, a “thumping” into a crushing defeat. In less than a third the time that Republicans ran things, Democrats pissed it all away.
So… what happened?
The Republicans would like to say that the country turned against the liberal agenda, but we know that isn’t true. Polls have consistently shown for years now that the citizenry trend left on the majority of issues and always have. Take your pick from gay rights to global warming, the war in Iraq to the war on drugs, this is largely a liberal nation. This is no surprise, since we were founded by people who wanted to progress forward from the archaic ways of their home country.
No, what sunk the Democrats was a lack of a spine. Four years ago, people poured into the streets, desperate to see the GOP fought against. Hoping to get a leadership that would shut down the Bush-style republicans and at least get us moving toward a new goal. It would be unfair to suggest that nothing has been done, as the appropriately named “What the Fuck Has Obama Done So Far?” will show. Lots of progress has been made.
Be that as it may, the party largely failed to truly stand up to the right. The last four years showed record numbers of filibusters and cloture votes, Republicans proved themselves amazingly adept at blockading Democratic legislation and forcing it to go through the ringer (if it went through at all). In fact, Republicans seemed to be just as good at stopping the legislative process as they were at jamming things through when they held all the marbles.
And that was just it. When the Republicans were on top, Democratic opposition was nonexistent, they were all so easily kowtowed into silence by attacking their patriotism. When Democrats were on top, Republicans were able to stonewall with an almost frightening success rate. That’s where this notion of “Democratic apathy” came from: the feeling that having Democrats in charge was barely more helpful than having them as a minority. For many liberals, it became impossible to shake the feeling that all of the rousing speeches were hollow.
When Bush was still president, I often chastised him for squandering national unity and goodwill following 9/11. The Democrats did something very similar following their 2006 victory, and more so in 2008. After a huge win in the midterms, the Democrats said “we need a Senate supermajority and the White House before we can really start working!” And so, two years later, the people redoubled their efforts and gave them just that. The Democrats, by all accounts, should have been able to do anything.
Yet it didn’t work out that way. The “liberal agenda” didn’t steamroll over the opposition, not by a long shot. The rhetoric and rallying cries gave way to constant talks about “inclusion” and “compromise” that weren’t any part of what got them there in the first place. And so we got another 1994.
I want to just point that out again. The Democrats gained seats in 2006, gained even more seats in 2008, and then lost nearly all of them in 2010. And it had nothing to do with being “too liberal”. If anything, they weren’t liberal enough. The 2008 gains proved that. But after being unable to make good use of their complete and utter control, they failed to fix the issues that they could have if they’d simply showed some balls.
Ironically, as people like Paul Krugman have observed, it was that very lack of fortitude that prevented the Democrats from fully repairing all of the damage the Bush years did to us. This had an amazing two-pronged effect on the Democratic image: Democrats saw that their representatives lacked the courage of their convictions, and Republicans saw that Democrats can’t fix anything. It’s easy to spin an election against the incumbents when things go badly, even if the reason is that their policies didn’t go far enough.
So, from now to 2012, we can see what lesson the Democrats draw from November 2nd, 2010. That lesson will determine the outcome of the next trip to the ballot box.
I said it in 2008 and they didn’t listen, but I’ll say it again: Democrats, don’t fuck this up.