Electoral defeats are painful, but clarifying. As Democrats survey the damage left by a larger-than-expected Republican wave, it’s possible to discern four signposts on the road to a progressive recovery.
First, the party needs to start working on a post-Obama agenda.
Anti-Obama sentiment engulfed Democratic candidates everywhere, dragging red-state senators underwater and nearly drowning seemingly safe incumbents in purple or blue states, like Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. The main “issue” in all these campaigns was the Democratic candidates’ supposed fidelity to Barack Obama. Only in this sense did Republicans succeed in nationalizing the midterm, but it was enough.
In his press conference Wednesday, a rather clueless President Obama took no responsibility for the wipeout and conveyed no urgency about making course corrections. This suggests that while Obama will be the main bulwark against GOP hubris and extremism over the next two years, Democrats will have to look elsewhere for the new ideas and arguments they need to regain the political initiative and rebuild support for progressive goals.
Second, those ideas won’t come from the party’s current congressional leadership, either.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid are able legislative tacticians, tough partisan warriors, and world-class fundraisers. The charge now being leveled against them by some on the left—that they haven’t been aggressive enough in confronting Republicans—is ludicrous.
But agile tactics and fighting spirit aren’t enough, especially if voters think they are mainly in the service of expanding benefits for favored party constituencies. What Democrats need is a larger vision for restoring shared prosperity that can unite the interests of core partisans with those of moderate and independent voters. The current leadership has discouraged creative thinking by party pragmatists about ways to speed up economic growth, improve the regulatory environment for innovation, or make government work better. Instead, they’ve enforced conformity to focus-grouped “messages” tailored narrowly to different slices of the electorate.
Yes, I know that raising the minimum wage is popular. But it didn’t lift Democrats last Tuesday, and neither did alarmist rhetoric about a “war on women.” Next time around, Democrats will need to offer voters something more inspiring than a tired pastiche of messages aimed at bribing or scaring voters. It’s time to replace the current team with a younger crop of rising leaders open to bigger, bolder ideas for tackling America’s big problems.
Continue reading at The Daily Beast.