The 2012 Democratic convention, with its ringing calls for economic populism and commitment to civil liberties, had me persuaded that Dems had finally grown spines. But now, reflecting on the midterm loss, it seems they’re reverted to being invertebrates again.
After the midterms a great many people pointed out that the Dem candidates who lost often were the ones who ran furthest and fastest from President Obama’s record. Of course, we’re told over and over again that President Obama is “unpopular.” And why is that? Jeff Schweitzer wrote shortly after the election that public perceptions of the Obama Administration have been painted by Republicans and often bear little resemblance to, you know, what the Administration actually is doing.
But I can’t lay blame just on those lying weasel Republicans, because the Obama Administration itself has failed to connect with people and make the case for its own accomplishments. This is partly because the Dems lack the media infrastructure the Right has built, and partly because the allegedly leftist media still allows right-wing voices to dominate talk shows and opinion pages. But it’s also the case that Dems turn into jellyfish way too easily.
Todayâ€™s Democratic Party, with its finely calibrated, top-down fixes, does not offer anything so transformative. It seems scared of its own shadow, which is probably why it keeps reassuring itself that its triumph is inevitable. It needs instead to fully acknowledge just how devastating the recession was for working people everywhere in America, and what a generation of largely flat wages did to their aspirations even before that. It needs to take on hard fights, even against powerful forces, like pharmaceutical and insurance companies that presume to tell us the limits of what our health care can be or energy companies that would tell us what the worldâ€™s climate can endure. It means carving out a place of respect for working men and women in our globalized, finance-driven world.
Invite us to dream a little. You donâ€™t build an enduring coalition out of who Americans are. You do it out of what we can be.
It may be that the GOP’s only message is to scare people to death, but at least it has a message.