Friday, January 22, 2010

Not holding my breath

People of Massachusetts have spoken for the rest of the country – just like the people of New York 23 spoke for the rest of America when they put a Democrat in that House seat for the first time since the civil war. Remember how that was for all of America – back in November? Not. (Rachel Maddow)

In order to get maximum political spin out of this special election, Republicans have been describing it as a revolution, the ‘Scott’ heard around the world. Of course they want to say this is more than a defeat of candidate Martha Coakley – that this was a defeat of all Democrats! And, sadly, many Democrats seem to think of it that way too. “Oh, woe are we!” they cried in near unison when the Massachusetts results came in.

Here is what went wrong: In April, after Arlen Specter switched parties, the Democrats had 59 seats in the Senate. Then, after Al Franken was finally certified as winning in Minnesota, Democrats had a filibuster-proof, 60-seat majority – or so they thought. It made them think they could get those magical votes for every bill if they just compromised enough. On paper, that‘s what they had; but in reality, those 60 votes included so-called Democrats who really had no interest in voting with the rest of the Democrats on much of anything. They were DINOS (Democrat in name only) who found it in their political interest to say “no” to everything – just like the Republicans.

Attaining the filibuster-proof, 60-vote threshold made Democrats worse at creating policy. Instead of working on the most effective possible policies that could still get a majority vote, Senate Democrats have been trying to find the perfect, most conservative but yet, still Democratic, solutions to every problem, in order to earn the 60 magical Democrat party votes. To get to a winning 60 votes, they negotiated with too many their own members, weakening every piece of legislation that came up. In trying to accommodate Republican-lites like Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and Evan Bayh, they ended up with watered-down, Republican-like policies that were basically ineffective. On the other hand, Republicans have been able to drop the hammer to keep their folks in line, eventually even controlling Olivia Snowe of Maine.

After factoring in Scott Brown, Democrats now have 59 seats in the Senate. What they do not seem to understand is that even without 60 votes, they still have giant majorities in both the House and the Senate. All they seem to be able to see is that they do not have their magical, mythical 60 “filibuster-proof” seats anymore.

What the Dems should understand is that they can pass everything through reconciliation, where they only need 51 votes, not 60. Sure, there are limitations to reconciliation, but it‘s not like big policies have never been passed this way. That is what President Bush did with his tax cuts in 2001, passed through reconciliation with 58 votes. Bush‘s tax cuts in 2003, passed through reconciliation with 51 votes. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which reduced spending on Medicaid, passed through reconciliation with 51 votes.

“So let the impact of Massachusetts sink in, then expose the nihilism of the opposition, take the black eye as a necessary evil in such a turbulent time ... and fight on,” wrote Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Dish.

In essence, the Democratic Party is too democratic. They are too worried about everyone liking them. They do not know how to rule with an iron fist like the Republicans did during the Bush administration. Republicans hit the beach, burned the boats, and drove their agenda through without apologies.

The low-information, fickle electorate has no perseverance. They must be led. If the Dems lose their majority next November, the President will be forced to move center-right and never be able to follow through with the promises he made. And, of course, the politically illiterate electorate will not understand why he could not keep his promises.

The Democratic Party is in need of a political spine. The constant negotiating does not instill a sense of confidence in their base. I am beginning to doubt that the Senate Democrats have any fight in them. I am afraid that they will run for the hills and stick their heads in the sand refusing to do anything vaguely controversial, allowing the 41-vote Republican minority to control the agenda. This will cause disenfranchised, disillusioned Democrats and left-leaning Independents to stay home next November.

Democrats need to understand that they do not have to get 60 votes every time. Since the mythical 60-seat majority isn‘t even theoretically possible, with Republicans pledging to vote “no” on everything, maybe Democrats can get off their keisters, stop compromising away all the good stuff, and fight. Then they will give people a reason to vote for them again.

But I am not going to hold my breath.