Le Deluge

Defeat is not a calamity if the losers learn from their mistakes and change their approach for the next round. The question is whether the Democrats will do that. Their problem is a bit bigger than usual because the thrashing was so sound and the Republican gain so broad that the Democrats are going to have to learn many lessons, not one only, just to become competitive again. Here are three signs of how bad it was yesterday:

1. New England was breached. The supposed firewall for Democrats looked anything but. The loony Tea Party governor of Maine strolled to re-election. Martha Coakley once again squandered a large lead in a statewide race in solid blue (we thought) Massachusetts. Although the highly unpopular Democratic governor of Connecticut was able to squeak by the highly unpopular GOP challenger with the help of the President and Michelle Obama (where they are much more popular than any of the Democrats in Connecticut) and the entire Congressional delegation remained Democratic, both houses of the legislature flipped.

2. The Florida governor, the North Carolina senate, and the Colorado senate races showed that Obama did not “extend the map ” to these states permanently. It looks like they will be even harder to win in the future.

3. The Kansas governor race shows that there are places in this country that a Republican cannot screw up badly enough to lose. It is the GOP and not the Democrats who have the firewalls.

So what lessons should the Democrats learn? Here are a few I offer.

1. If you act like rats fleeing a sinking ship, the public is reasonable in assuming the ship is sinking.

I did not get the the thinking behind the late trend to pretend none of the Democrats knew President Obama. It is not like the public is going to forget that Obama is a Democrat. And really if you are running for U.S. Senate on the Democratic ticket and refuse to say if you voted for the Democratic candidate for president two years ago (the incumbent and party leader no less), you are rightfully going to be thought as having something to hide.

If your association with the party leader and the principles of the party are so toxic that you are going to lose if the public knows about them, then you might as well preserve your dignity and swallow the hemlock like a Greek philosopher instead of pretending you don’t know who the President is. Who knows?  Your integrity might allow you to live to run another day. It will certainly help other candidates. Because there is nothing worse that seeing the party in wholesale retreat. But we’ve seen that behavior before by Democrats. It may actually be a feature, not a bug.

2. Doing nothing while in office for the benefit of marginal candidates of your party, still amounts to doing nothing.

The Republicans in 2013 were seen by everyone, including Republicans, as the party who wanted to prevent government action. And the pubic hated them for it. The Democrats went out of their way to take that honor from them and hang it around their own necks. Harry Reid made it so that Senators in GOP-leaning states would not have to vote on things that would define them. This, however, also meant that GOP senators did not have to vote on things that would define them. But most of all, it became clear who was ensuring that votes were not taking place. So in a referendum against a do-nothing Congress, if you are the one seen as preventing things from getting done, the hammer is going to come down on you.

3.  If things seem too clever by half, they are probably not clever at all.

Let’s read the polls and see where we have an edge or listen to consultants who have a road map for victory. Women’s issues, you say? Let’s talk about absolutely noting else. This is exactly the strategy of Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall. It became so over-the-top that a large Democratic contributor heckled him on the weekend before the election and later referred to him as Mark Uterus.

This is just one example of how the Democrats looked as though they are the part of the political consultant, and nothing else.

4. Here’s a wild idea: Why don’t you stand for something, maybe even something noble. I remember there was a party once which stood for social justice, full employment, helping the neediest, providing opportunity to children, allowing workers to organize to partially counter the power capital has over them, giving dignity to work, and having income from capital pay in taxes at least as much as income from labor. I seem to recall that that party had a pretty good run. Maybe you might look into it and see if there is anything there that you and your wealthy contributors might be comfortable with.

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  1. “Why don’t you stand for something, maybe even something noble.”

    Democrats probably won’t. That would mean bumping heads with their wealthy neo-liberal benefactors. Biting the hand that feeds them, so to speak.

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