Have the Democrats Blown it for a Generation?

Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman

It would be bittersweet for Democrats to rewatch HBO’s “By the People: the Election of Barack Obama” which details the 2008 election and the high hopes raised — and tears joyfully shed — on an election night seemingly a lifetime ago.

Cartoon by Hajo de Reijger - Cagle Cartoons (click to reprint)

Cartoon by Hajo de Reijger - Cagle Cartoons (click to reprint)

Things haven’t worked out according to their hopes and dreams. And, in fact, the question should now be asked: have the Democrats blown it for a generation?

On election night Democrats dreamed of a post-partisan era (in which their party would be dominant), more liberal Supreme Court justices, major Iraq and Afghanistan war policy changes, massive environmental policy shifts, scuttling Don’t Ask Don’t Tell regarding gays in the military, and an economic recovery from the Bush administration’s failures that would deep-six conservatism and the polarizing talk radio political culture once and for all.

Many Democratic Party liberals (OOPS! the word now is “progressives,” which is to “liberals” as “pre-owned cars” is to “used cars”)  felt the election was a triumph of their policies, ideas and dreams even though polls indicated voters really wanted to boot out the party that seriously messed things up.  And now?

Every day seems to bring smellier poll number news for the Democratic Party. For instance a new Mason Dixon Poll finds that in Missouri Obama’s approval rating is 34 percent and 27 percent among independent voters. Nationally, there are fears Obama could drag down Senate candidates.

The worst news for Democrats: independent voters have been generally turning against Obama and company, although there has been something of a see-saw effect.

What has happened?

Once again the Democrats ““ particularly the party’s liberal wing — considered winning power in 2008 a big ideological “mandate” rather than what it was:  Democrats being provisionally rehired and closely watched while on job probation. Obama faced a bumpy ride — but own party has made it bumpier.

This isn’t the first time Democrats misinterpreted their candidate’s victory as consolidating a long-term majority and winning the ongoing partisan national argument. Hopes that elections meant the party and its policies had  “won” were dashed during the presidencies of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.

In each of these presidencies the liberal wing overreached in proposals and/or rhetoric, imprinting an image of a party craving to veer left even though Democrats won national elections by winning over moderates, independents, centrists and disgruntled Republicans. There were other factors, to be sure, but this was one constant.

The party’s image took a 2009 hit when some Congressional Democrats saw the stimulus as a way to try and get pork. The party’s liberal wing — sneering at Democratic moderates like Republican conservatives do at Republican moderates — became a major headache for an Obama attempting to be centrist on some issues via compromise and consensus.

Democrats also correctly blame their poll erosion on bad job numbers, talk shows hosts such as Rush Limbaugh for successfully cajoling GOP party elites not to compromise, a strong Republican info machine, the race issue, tea party movement, Republican Party discipline and Obama’s surprising communications problems. Now some disappointed liberals threaten to not vote in 2010 to teach their “corporatist” party a lesson — just like they taught “it” a lesson in 2000 by not voting or voting for Ralph Nader (which allowed the GOP to make strong inroads in the judiciary and bureaucracy). Senator Al Franken warns about waking up to find a GOP Congress.

If you tune in a liberal talk show you’ll invariably hear some callers go on and on about how mad they STILL are that Obama didn’t support “the public option” (three words now as obnoxious as chalk screeching on a blackboard), or a liberal talk show host lace into Obama in a way that will discourage Democrats from voting.

Liberal Democrats should remember that sitting on your hands on election day doesn’t give you a leg up on your foes: when you sit on your hands you lose and you later find it’s one, swift, political pain in the neck.

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Copyright 2010 Joe Gandelman

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected] and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com. Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter at www.twitter.com/joegandelman

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