The Republicans are openly introspective about why they failed to regain the presidency and the Senate. It is time for the same kind of rigorous self-analysis by the Democrats, who floated through their failure to regain control of the House without apparent dismay. Their failure to dislodge Speaker John Boehner and majority leader Eric Cantor assures that President Obama and congressional Democrats will get very little done for the next two years.
In the last Congress, Democrats were up against the cruelest, most extremist, most corporate-controlled Republican Party in history—a party far too extreme for the likes of Senator Robert Taft or Ronald Reagan. Last fall, the House Democratic Caucus issued a list of sixty outrageous Republican votes. If these bills had not been blocked in the Senate, the legislation would have been very unpopular with most voters.
The list cited GOP votes to protect massive tax breaks for the wealthiest, end the universal Medicare guarantee, jeopardize Social Security, oppose measures that would protect seniors from abusive financial practices, attack women’s health and safety, weaken consumer protections, undermine the Pell Grant program for low-income students, favor corporations shipping jobs overseas at the expense of American workers, slash the food stamp program, weaken protections to ensure that every voter’s vote counts, and allow big oil companies and speculators to drive up gas prices along with a raft of brazen anti-environmental bills that would have despoiled our air, water and soil.
House Republicans even blocked bills to help veterans, including one that would have guaranteed our soldiers’ pay during any GOP-led government shutdown. One can easily imagine how the party of Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson would have eviscerated Republicans who took such an arrogant plutocratic record into the elections of their eras. Today’s Democrats are of a decidedly different ilk.
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Early in 2012, I asked a number of high-ranking House Democrats the same question: “If you believe that on their record this is the worst Republican Party ever, why aren’t you landsliding them?” Their replies, preceded by wistful smiles, ranged from citing the difficulty of regaining gerrymandered districts to big-money support for the Republican Party. But the most candid response came from a high-ranking Democrat, who blurted, “Because we’d raise less money.” In other words, the Democrats are so beholden to their own big-money contributors that they can’t fight on issues that they know have overwhelming public support. Plainly, the House Democrats raised enough money. They benefited from their gerrymandering, too. On the issues, the Democrats had a huge advantage. Yet instead of confronting Republicans in district after district with the vicious Ryan budget and the Boehner Band’s voting record, the Democrats displayed open defeatism.
When I asked veteran House Democrats in the spring of 2012 how many seats they thought they would gain in November, the highest estimate was twelve to fifteen (they needed twenty-five to win the House but gained only eight). So even six months or more before the November elections, they were predicting defeat. Defeatism with no offensive agenda is not a winning strategy. Granted, they did call for protecting Social Security and Medicare. But they kept harping, repeatedly and vaguely, on the “middle class,” as if 100 million poor and near-poor Americans didn’t need to hear from them.