Pundits keep giving all kinds of explanations for why the Democrats took a shellacking in the most recent election. Most of them also predict that they will take a bath again in 2012, asserting that Obama will lose. But the fact remains that it was the Democrats who shot themselves in the foot as new polls on the issues reveal. They surrendered before the election took place, allowing themselves to be put on the defensive, caving before attacks by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck instead of going after them the way Roosevelt would have. But maybe – just maybe – that was because they never believed in what they were doing in the first place.
Over sixty percent of Americans think that taxing the wealthy is the best way to balance the budget. A plurality thinks the best place to cut spending is the defense budget. Yet Democrats snuck out of Washington before the elections without forcing a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Under Obama they have supported substantial increases in defense spending. How can such obliviousness to the will of the majority of the American electorate be explained?
First of all, it is cowardice. The reason for this is quite simple. While the Republicans only pretend to have principles, the Democrats don’t have the courage of theirs. They live in fear. They cower and take the easy way out. They are terrified that they will be accused of raising taxes and so they duck instead of giving a simple explanation as to why abolishing the tax cuts for the wealthy makes sense.
They also fear being called soft on defense and soft on terrorism, the kind of attacks in which the Republicans specialize. This was Lyndon Johnson’s ultimate explanation for why he escalated the Vietnam War. He said that he feared being called “soft on communism” by the Republicans (think Richard Nixon) and being unable to continue his “Great Society” programs. It ended in disaster anyway, so what was the point? Because they allowed themselves to be put on the defensive in 2010, the Democrats allowed the hysteria the Republicans deliberately engendered to sweep the country, even taking down someone like Russ Feingold, who stood his ground but got lost in the flood.
Now Biden has pledged that the Democrats will campaign against renewing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in two years. But by failing to stand up for this principle during the election, the Democrats alienated their base. A great many voters who gave the Democrats control of the presidency, the House and the Senate in ’08 stayed home and allowed the highly motivated Republicans to win. The liberals proved to be soft, their candidates for Congress lame. Suddenly they all looked old and tired. The Republicans managed to recruit many young candidates who had lots of energy while the Democrats started to look like a collection of old hacks. That has always been the problem with the Democrats. The liberals who run it are an elite, a Mandarin society that expects everyone in the party to bow and ask their blessing. This discourages talented people who might go into politics. It is no wonder that young people are moving away from the Democrats. They are stale.
Obama generated high hopes that could not be fulfilled because he allowed himself to be pushed into orthodoxy by the party leadership. He surrounded himself with the same team that caused the collapse of the economy and has only appointed Goolsbee after the fact. It was as though the Democrats, including Obama, started to believe that the positions they had previously taken had become a liability so that the Democrats in Congress became convinced that if they ran on the issues they would lose. In a number of races they resorted to ugly personal attacks, making them look spiteful and resentful. This was the case in Florida where a conservative black Republican won in spite of the vile and false attacks by the Democratic liberal incumbent.
In the past the Democrats took the same money as the Republicans, which often determined how they voted. Now only the militant liberal Democrats remain in the House so corporate America has written them off as their perpetual enemies. There are a few Democrats in the Senate still on the take but it won’t be long before they are gone as well. Right now the future belongs to the Republicans, a startling turnabout two years after the Democratic sweep. Never let it be said of the Democrats that they have not known how to nab defeat from the jaws of victory.