Yes, the country is in a foul mood, with 15 million unemployed. The Democrats may get clobbered in 2010. And even if we survive, how do we hang on for the long term? If our great founder, FDR, could come back to us, he might remind us of the three simple rules that once, long ago, Democrats used to follow:
1. Do something for your base.
2. Do something for your base.
3. Do something for your base.
Seriously: why can’t we do something for our base? It’s been almost a half-century since we Democrats did something for our base, when Lyndon Johnson pushed through Medicare, i.e., "socialized medicine" for seniors. And while some may compare the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 to Medicare, there’s a big difference. To the public, the new law seems to benefit only the uninsured: the young or the marginal, few of whom will even vote in 2010 (maybe just a third of the electorate will). So while the new law is a big help to them, it does nothing for the rest of our base, especially our smaller core base that will vote in the midterms. Indeed, it seems to penalize our base, or at least raise their taxes, at a time when they have lost a big chunk of their 401(k) pensions, or their jobs, or even their homes—and if they’re lucky and still have a job, they may be working just three instead of five days a week. These are the very people who voted us in. "Yes, we can!" And they watched, dumbfounded, as Congress virtually forgot their plight in our struggle to raise their taxes to give benefits to a lot of red-state uninsured who may never say thank you, and whose twenty or so red states are now trying to overturn the law.
Of course I’m in favor, wildly in favor, of this civilized and humane step toward healthcare for all. But after forty-five years of doing nothing for the people who register as Democrats, we might have kicked off 2010 by doing something for our base.
Yes, of course a fraction of our base, the uninsured, will benefit. But we could have started by doing something really big to reward or empower everyone in our base. Indeed, it’s a puzzle that someone with Obama’s acumen would not have done more to keep intact all these old-time Democrats and others who lifted him up to the White House in the last weeks of the election after Wall Street collapsed.
By the way, FDR would be the first to tell us it’s not enough to do something for our base. Here are three other little rules we should follow when we do something for our base:
1. Keep it simple. The healthcare bill not only did nothing for our base; it was hard to understand. Every initiative should be capable of being put down in a single sentence or two. "Financial reform" is fine, but the Dodd-Frank Act is too hard to sum up coherently to our base on even an index card, much less a bumper sticker.
2. Make it universal. People on the left have all sorts of ideas for programs that turn out to be available only to a select few. By contrast take FDR’s big ideas, like Social Security. Not everyone is on it, but sooner or later we all are headed there. If we’re not there, our parents are. Likewise, Medicare: we’ll all get there. The public option, which was left out of the healthcare law, was a nice idea and all, but in the end it would have been available only for a few.