Winning the 2010 elections

by: Mike Lux

Wed Nov 18, 2009 at 11:07


In January of 1998, the news about Monica Lewinsky exploded in the Washington media world. It was 24-7, and red hot intense. Within 72 hours, Republicans were calling for Clinton's resignation or impeachment, and some Democrats- even some liberal ones like Paul Wellstone- were on the verge of doing the same. Clinton survived the first barrage of calls for him to step down, but as that long year wore on, and more and more salacious news came out- topped off by the stained dress in August- it looked worse and worse for both Clinton and the Democratic Party.

Republicans were salivating at their prospects in the November elections, and Democrats were running scared. Pundits were predicting big losses for the Democrats in Congress: 30 plus seats in the House and five or six in the Senate. It didn't turn out that way, though. For the first time in 176 years, the party with a President in office in his 6th year actually picked up seats in the Congress (we picked up 5 in the House, while staying even in the Senate.) Without going into detail as to why (if you want to know more about that, you can go here), the bottom line is that progressives outside the party structure helped chart a bold strategy for winning that made all the difference.

Instead of avoiding the President's problems, we made the case that it was time for the country to move on, that all the Republicans wanted to do was wallow in the mud, and instead the country needed to focus on solving our problems. After initially resisting this approach, Democrats ended up embracing it, and we shocked the political world by picking up five seats instead of losing 30.

2010 is a very different kind of year, but it also looks bad for Democrats right now. It feels a lot like 1994 right now, with a weak economy, an impassioned right wing movement, and a discouraged Democratic base. We didn't do very well in the 2009 elections, and forecasts of ugly job numbers for a long time to come are making a lot of voters feel angry and discouraged. But I am convinced that there is a strategy that can turn the 2010 election around. That strategy needs to be built around health care, jobs, and taking on the big banks. None of these things are easy, but I am convinced that they are by far the best hope Democrats have.

Details on the strategy in the extended entry.

Mike Lux :: Winning the 2010 elections
On health care, they simply have to pass a strong bill where at least some important and tangible benefits kick in right away. They just have to if there is any hope in the 2010 elections. To have worked on this issue for a year and come away with nothing of significance to show for it is a political disaster for the entire party. God help any Democrat from a tough district or state on the ballot in 2010, because nothing short of divine intervention will save them.

On jobs the politics are complicated. I think many voters understand the depth of damage to this economy, and don't expect miracles. But can I just make some suggestions to my Democratic friends regarding how NOT to talk about jobs in 2010:

  • Don't brag about how the GDP is growing, the recession is over, but jobs are a lagging indicator and the job situation will eventually get better.

  • Don't say "well, we know things are bad, but without us it would have been a lot worse".

  • Don't talk about how great it is that the banking sector is healthy again, because soon they will be lending money to businesses, and at some point that will mean some of those businesses will start hiring again.

My personal preference would be to fire every Democrat on the White House staff or on Capitol Hill who talks like a macroeconomist. Macroeconomists like Summers and Geithner are thrilled with the 3.5% GDP growth, and thrilled that the banking sector is showing "more health" (read: big profits)- they show about as much political sensitivity as George HW Bush when he looked at his watch in the middle of the debate, or said "Message: I care." Bragging about an improving GDP and explaining how jobs are lagging indicators which will someday trickle down to the unemployed is political death at a time like this. What Democrats should be doing is fighting like cats and dogs for every job that they can deliver, to their districts and to the country. Show that they are moving on this urgent need: get a new jobs bill passed, get a roads/infrastructure bill passed. Show more toughness when the most protectionist country on earth, China, lectures us on being protectionists (they liked us being saps for all those years.) Fight like crazy for new jobs in every venue, every forum, every chance you get- and tell people no matter how many jobs you produce that it is never enough, that you will keep fighting for more. The message has to go beyond the Obama White House mantra that "we won't be satisfied until everyone has a job"- it has to be that we will fight like tigers to produce every job we can now, not in some distant future. Voters understand the deep hole our economy is in, and that things won't be solved overnight, but they want to know that their political leaders are as passionate about solving unemployment problems as the people struggling are to find jobs.

Finally, in terms of the big banks, as I have written before, voters are mad as hell at Wall Street, and they want to know that politicians are not only mad too, but are willing to do something to take them on. Bernie Sanders' two-page bill to break up the big banks was a stroke of political genius, and is great economic policy besides. Based on private polling I've seen, about 85% of the American public would agree with Bernie's statement that if you are too big to fail, you are too big to exist- and they believe it passionately: in every speech I have given over the last year, my single biggest applause line, easily, was that statement. Bernie's simple, straightforward two-page bill is a masterstroke, as it cuts through all the financial gobbledygook of the financial barons, and lays bare a simple way to get done what the public is demanding. I hope Bernie files it as an amendment on the floor to any bill coming up for debate, and forces other Senators to vote up or down on it. The Democrats who are smart will champion the idea and fight for it.

If Democrats follow the safe conventional wisdom formula in the 2010 elections, they will get their butts handed to them. Voters are not happy with incumbents, base Democratic voters feel like no one is fighting for them, independents feel like nobody cares what they think. But if Democrats shed their caution and become fighters, for jobs and health care and the middle class and against insurers and Wall Street, they can pull off the same kind of surprise in 2010 that we pulled off in 1998.


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The Democrats Have to Pass Something on Health Care (0.00 / 0)
The Democrats should be desperate.  The reason that Bart Stupak has so much leverage is that he leads a swing group that will actually vote for a public option (and probably would vote for a stronger public option than what is actually in the House bill).  That's very different from making concessions to try to win Blue Dog votes.

At this point, I think that Democrats are much better off passing a flawed bill than not passing one at all.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both


perhaps the Democrats would be better off (4.00 / 1)
Americans certainly would not be

which is more important, winning an election or helping people?

I think I know where Lux stands...


[ Parent ]
I don't agree (4.00 / 3)
He does seem to think that you can't separate the two, yes. I think he's wrong, as I've said many times before, but I don't think that he can be rightly accused of putting party above the public good.

[ Parent ]
That's Up to You (0.00 / 0)
But here's the basic lay of the land.  Any health care bill that passes is going to be flawed.

If you scrap the bill and try again next year (is that possible?), Stupak will still have his amendment in.  If the Democrats don't pass anything and lose seats because of being perceived as a do-nothing Congress (and some of the seats they lose will be politicians who support a public option, and not just Blue Dogs), good health care reform becomes tougher to pass.  You're either banking on a bad loss in 2010 motivating Obama to shift gears dramatically in 2012 and creating a wave that makes a better bill possible three or four years from now, or you're preparing to wait out a cycle of Obama losing and Republicans screwing up the country for a few years.

So, we have a choice between accepting a flawed bill with a better foundation in the future for helping Americans or opposing a flawed bill to make a point.  The less flawed the health reform bill is, the more attractive the former option is.  I actually have a lot of venom towards current House "progressives" for not making this a much harder choice, like trying to get Stupak to deliver enough votes from his faction to support Medicare-Plus-Five in exchange for granting him a floor vote.  Instead, Pelosi and others tried to avoid confrontation hoping it would go away instead of doing some logrolling.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both


[ Parent ]
Stupak isn't the only problem with this bill (4.00 / 1)
as it stands the bill will cost working people MORE, not less and do nothing but line the pockets of the insurance companies who've put in this mess to begin with

without a true, Medicare-like public option (or single payer, for that matter) this bill does nothing to help anyone save for the DLC and DCCC's corporate masters


[ Parent ]
"this bill does nothing to help anyone" (0.00 / 0)
tell that to someone with a pre-existing condition.

hey, tell that to me.


[ Parent ]
In so many ways their destinies are linked (0.00 / 0)
the poo-bahs of the GOP come out of the Mussolini school of politics.

When they are in power America accelerates into the Abyss.


[ Parent ]
Let the chips fall.... (4.00 / 13)
I've heard all the arguments about why the Democratic Party must be saved at all costs; I even agree with some of them. On the other hand, the smug, (long string of deleted expletives) fools who now lead the party have made their bed. It would take a miracle to save them from lying in it, and I'm not in the miracle business.

Why should anyone have to work this hard to prevent these folks from getting what they so richly deserve? I'd like to see the country right itself, but when the last chance of that happening dissolves into the spectacle of the Congress kissing Bart Stupak's ignorant ass, the White House certifying bills of attainder, standing against the right of those accused of crimes to hear the evidence against them, agreeing that a fascist economy is just what we all need to prosper in the future, turning our volunteer military into a charnel house of violence and insanity, and deciding that coal mining is more important than a binding treaty on greenhouse gas limits, what I'd like to see might as well be the Faerie Queen and all her entourage.

President Palin, Vice-President Dobbs? If, God forbid, that should happen, all I can say is that it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of pragmatists than those who currently occupy the White House. Have we ever been more ill-served as a people? Perhaps, but in looking in the history books, I'm hard pressed to discover when.


[ Parent ]
History books? (4.00 / 1)
My god, have we forgotten 2000-2008 already?

Sure, it may be frustrating to have the guys on "our side" not being able to do much, but have we really forgotten how disastrous those 8 years were for our country?


[ Parent ]
I'm not the one who forgot (4.00 / 8)
Not being able to do much? Ask Rahm Emanuel just how much he wants to do. That's the more relevant question. As for how disastrous, you ain't seen nothing yet. And please, don't forget what we voted for, what the Democrats punted on, and above all, why they punted on it. GWB was a symptom, not the disease. In my opinion, Obama is another, and not necessarily a more benign one simply because of his party affiliation, or his bien-pensant self-confidence.

[ Parent ]
Coalition politics aren't your strong point, is it? (4.00 / 1)
If you ever want to have a majority, you're going to have to deal with people like Bart Stupak...we always have and always will.

Perhaps, but in looking in the history books, I'm hard pressed to discover when.

Anytime between 1789 and 2008.  


[ Parent ]
Coalition politics? (4.00 / 4)
Is that what you call getting buggered by your supposed friends? Deals with the devil are far easier when the devil isn't calling all the shots. When he is, I don't call that coalition politics. I call it obsequiousness.

[ Parent ]
This doesn't make sense (0.00 / 0)
Deals with the devil are far easier when the devil isn't calling all the shots

If the devil isn't calling the shots, then there would be no need to make a deal with him.  


[ Parent ]
Precisely (4.00 / 4)
Slaves only get one deal. They also have to be careful not to do anything which might cause the deal to be altered by those who have the power to alter it.

Tell me again why it is that you think you've got a deal, and how long you'll defend a system which rejects all of your modest proposals.

If that's what you consider a deal, I should go into the used-car business.


[ Parent ]
If you do like the system, march and work to change it (0.00 / 0)
but right now it's the one we got.  

[ Parent ]
Non-responsive (4.00 / 4)
and presumptuous as well. I'll tell you the same thing I tell all the pragmatists. You work your side of the street; I'll work mine. We'll see who gets to Scotland first. If turns out to be you, I'll be in the audience clapping with all the other skeptics.

[ Parent ]
You really don't understand (4.00 / 1)
I don't think you could handle living in a multi-party parliamentary system where a progressive faction would probably have to make deals with centrist parties to form a center-left coalition if it wants a majority.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Yes, you're right, I'm too disagreeable to get anything done (4.00 / 2)
Here, try these on for size:

Manufacturing Consent

One-Dimensional Man

All I'm saying is that politics isn't the paltry thing that you make it out to be. Is it safe? No, it isn't.


[ Parent ]
Yeah (4.00 / 2)
That's worked real well for the SDP, hasn't it?  Also worked mighty fine for the Labour Party, too.  Let's see ... the SDP is out of power and the Labour Party is going to get slaughtered.

When a party sacrifices principals for power they end-up losing both.  


[ Parent ]
I have no problem with standing up for principles (0.00 / 0)
I just don't think the Democrats are picking the right spots to make stands.  I think that progressives should be much more angry because a more robust public option didn't pass the House than because the Stupak amendment did.  I don't get the sense that that is the case, which makes me thing the progressive movement will continue to have a lot of problems getting things done.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
so in the name of making friends women should be tossed under the bus? (4.00 / 5)
how awful do people have to behave before they're regarded as unreasonable?

[ Parent ]
minorities were repeadedly thrown under the bus (0.00 / 0)
during the New Deal...the most progressive era in American history threw people under the bus too.

I'm not saying we should do give in, we should fight it, but be aware we might lose and that's life...part of living in a democracy.

If you tossed out every anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-tax, pro-war, or deficit hawk in the party, there wouldn't be a party left.


[ Parent ]
sounds like a party not worth preserving to me (4.00 / 2)
at the very least, not one worth voting for

also, it feels like grouping in "anti-gay" and "anti-choice" with fiscal conservatism diminishes important human rights issues by conflating them with policy squabbles


[ Parent ]
They're not all the same people (4.00 / 1)
the Democratic Party survives because it was social conservative labor Democrats from the Midwest, socially liberal Wall Street Democrats from the Northeast, etc.

What about if you replace Stupak with a Republican? You lose Stupak on the environment and on labor.

Marcy Kaptur and Jerry Costello supported Stupak, both of whom are single payer advocates, strongly pro-labor, and strongly anti-war...you still want to replace them with Republicans?

What about Jay Rockefeller, who has been pushing the public option harder than anyone in the Senate...remember him on FISA? You still want to get rid of him?

Chuck Schumer, who champions Wall Street...you think Rudy Giuliani should get his seat?

Like Russ Feingold? Did you know he's trying to get more money for coal in the energy bill? Should we replace him with a Republican then?

you may not think a party that isn't 100% pure is worth saving, but if you're waiting for a pure progressive majority, you're going to be waiting a long time. There are progressives from 2,000 years ago who are still waiting.  


[ Parent ]
Yes (0.00 / 0)
The Democrats (and progressives) should set a manageable number of priorities and be willing to throw anyone and anything under the bus that doesn't fit in those priorities.

Yes, that means that people may have to choose between throwing women under the bus to help uninsured people or throwing uninsured people under the bus in the name of women's rights.

It is my contention that the left doesn't win as much as it should because it is unwilling to make hard decisions about who is bus-worthy.  As long as Democrats are afraid, they will always be vulnerable to strategies that seek to insert "poison pill" amendments.  For example, I think that Democrats should have voted for the DC voting rights bill with the Ensign gun amendment instead of putting the legislation on hold.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both


[ Parent ]
your suggestions (4.00 / 4)
Mike,

I'm with you 100%, but I don't see any indications that the Obama administration or most Congressional Democrats get it.  With Tim Geither, Larry Summers, and Ben Bernanke in charge of the economy, Obama has pretty much given a signal where he is coming from--  status quo.  

On healthcare, he has allowed the issue to devolve into a legislative circus that is an embarrassment to the nation.  I thin things are going to have to become very dire in this country before we see any bold corrective action.


Heck... (4.00 / 2)
Biden was on TDS last night and touted the bailout as staving off another great depression.

Not a winning message I thought at the time (beyond other angry thoughts).

This is coming from someone that will not vote for a republican on the national and state level for at least another decade.


[ Parent ]
i agree with a lot of what you say (0.00 / 0)
but this is not 1994.  the republicans may make gains, but the long term trend allows for the possibility of something much better, not George Bush - or Bill Clinton, for that matter.

Winning For Who? (4.00 / 2)
The question is no longer how the progressives help the Democratic party in 2010.  The question is what will the Obama WH do RIGHT NOW for progressive support in 2010.

Quite frankly, Obama is setting himself and his WH up to be Hoover II.  They're going to go down in flames, and not because the Republicans road blocked their agenda, but because they've been bought, lock, stock, and barrel by Wall St.  The wheels are going to come of this insane strategy of trying to recreate the Wall St of 2007, and it's going to crash the world's economy.

I don't think the progressives can stop them, just like we cannot stop a HCR bill that's nothing but a TARP for the health care insurance industrial complex that screwed up our national health care. It's time to see what good we can salvage from this insanity. It's time to politically move clear from the idiots in the WH, and pin this disaster on Rahm and the Blue Dogs.


Obama is setting himself up to be Carter II (4.00 / 1)
This country is too angry to re-elect a do nothing President, even given the current Republicans.

Can it happen here?

[ Parent ]
The future is too important to leave up to (4.00 / 1)
the Democrats.

We need a victory based on demographic and logistical power alone (what else could it be based on?) to show that Obama wasn't just a false dawn, but that America the Diverse truly is here to stay.

With our shields or on them.


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