With all the Democratic moaning and the Republican smirking, everyone seems to agree: Democrats were destroyed, once again, by the party’s own infamous, albeit typical, downright astonishing ineptitude at executing (mostly) very good ideas and mushy, scared campaigns.
Liberals across American are once again licking their wounds in a sort of flabbergasted, how-could-this-happen disbelief, as Republicans grabbed piles of dumb power on waves of nothing but contempt, hostility, lies and a derisive lack of a single fresh idea.
A failure of nerve. A lack of ideological spine. A toothless mismanagement of a largely admirable agenda that, despite some terrific successes, never fully made it off the runway. Worst of all, the accomplishments of the Obama administration, given the dire state of affairs when he took office, felt like the Great Depression 2.0 was a certainty.
Call it what you will. But the president certainly didn’t help his own cause, however, with his weird tone of detached obliviousness to the effect the lack of respect that was being dumped at his feet, his failure to grow some serious backbone to push back against GOP obstructionism and not trumpeting the party’s successes from day one…all combined with a sort of pathetic lack of follow-through on maintaining the wild, youth-led enthusiasm he so rightfully earned in the beginning, and, to a lesser extent, again in 2012. And don’t get me started on the milquetoast support from the Dems that had all the aplomb of a bay bird. It was a pathetic showing all around.
And Republicans? No big secret there. They won (again) because of their utter mastery at hurling empty propaganda, their utter hatred of President Obama, and FOX “news” covertly and overtly undermining every single thought, spoken word, or positive outcome that remotely supported the truth of Obama’s successes.
Let us emphasize this point fully and clear: Hate and propaganda won. Ideas and lack of spine with a cohesive and united voice lost.
Don’t take my word for it. Republicans admit as much themselves. They widely acknowledge they forwarded not a single new idea, promised not a single fresh approach to governing. In nearly every race in the country, Republicans ran on one campaign slogan and one slogan only: Obama is horrible.
And it worked. It worked disgracefully well. As with every mid-term, turnout was abysmal, young (liberal) voters stayed away, and those who did turn out were the Republican’s most favorite chattel of all: older, fear-addled white conservatives who lack much in the way of critical thinking skills.
And don’t you bother to pity, for a moment, the poor Democratic party for the horribly ironic bind it finds itself in, over and over again.
The party’s most fatal flaw is also its most appealing trait: It lacks the murderous cruelty and savage bloodlust of the Republicans.
Whereas the GOP has zero qualms about flinging feces comprised of lies (birthers, science deniers, creationists, et al) to get what it wants, not to mention an ever-present air of racism, sexism and a dark mistrust/hatred of everyone from Muslims to the praise heaped on, of all people, Russian president Putin, who showed “leadership” in invading the sovereign nation of Ukraine. Dems have no such arsenal, and lack the skill to use it if they did. I’m sorry, but Debbie Wasserman Shultz was quite possibly the most inept chairman of the Democratic National Committee I can remember.
Republicans will say and do anything to win, and are utterly ruthless about how they go about it; enacting a smart, fair policy agenda is not even on their radar. Dems are the exact opposite: terrific agenda, lots of policy, but morally unwilling to play dirty, or at least smart.
This is why there is no Democratic equivalent of Fox News nor blowhard Rush Limbaugh, nor endless drumbeats of hate speech, no incessant wails of fear, racism, hatred of The Other. Liberal ideology largely prohibits such harsh machinery. The Dems are the party of the smart, the city, the college-educated, the critical thinker. Nearly every major metropolis votes blue, and every significant college town, and scientist, and artist, and creative entrepreneur.
The general truism remains: The smarter, more compassionate and more attuned you get, the more liberal your sensibilities of right and wrong skew. The more fearful, suspicious and egocentric you get, the more you associate with the conservative mindset .
So then, consensus: Extremism and odium won; intelligence and compromise lost.
For now, anyway. Some say this is just a typical mid-cycle backlash, part of an all-too-common Democratic surge/crash cycle that Obama had hoped to mollify, and failed. Badly.
Some say wait until Hillary takes over in 2016. Which is amusing given how, aside from her gender, Hillary brings the exact same gnarly set of political baggage as those who came before.
Still others say that, despite this red surge, the country is still turning leftward overall, as demographics shift, women and minorities become more dominant, and older white males gasp their last hateful, cynical breath. What with a lousy voter turnout and most of that from older whites from the red states, this election is a very poor indicator of overall direction.
But one thing is pretty clear: It’s going to be a very ugly couple of years. The smell of Bush, the continual brash BS of Cheney, the stink of Rove and his particular brand of fear and dire future permeates the air. Obama just got much grayer, though all is not necessarily lost.
Want a silver lining? I can think of two:
One: if voter turnout this election had been what it was in 2008 or 2012, Dems would have done much better. Women, minorities and young people, who generally lean more liberal, barely showed up. Which means potentially good news for 2016; unless the Dems screw it up.
And two? Well, that is California.
This state, the 8th largest economy in the world, is sort of a marvel. Governor Brown, who is 76 years old, just won again, in a landslide. Democrats have near-total control. And with the exception of a brutal drought, under Gov. Brown and just a handful of years after the state was the butt of a debt-ridden, downward-spiraling, Schwarzenegger-sized joke, the state is largely flourishing.
Brown is frugal, deeply intelligent, and compassionate. The state legislature, increasingly un-gridlocked and free of trying to combat Republican cruelty and obstructionism, moves with a unique ideological ease. Here, ideas can actually become reality. Agenda items evolve. Some surprisingly progressive proposals make it through. It’s not all roses and chocolate hearts but they seem to have found their own stack of issues, but considering this state’s immense budget, incredible economy and wildly complicated demographics, its ongoing success is nothing short of miraculous.
Is California a bright model of progressivism, wonderfully imperfect proof of what Dems can do when acidic conservativism and obstructionism aren’t a factor? Possibly. But one thing is fairly assured: At this particular moment, as Mitch McConnell’s swoops into Washington on his broom, and the flying monkeys swarm into D.C., cackling and smashing the furniture and ruining everyone’s day, the Dem’s calm, progressive bubble continues to make advances….slowly but surely.
If we can avoid the coming oil explosion (you don’t think this low-gasoline nirvana will last forever do you?), and limp into 2016 with a, hopefully strong Dem ticket, we just might make it for a few more years relatively unscathed.
Besides, the upcoming Republican showdown between the Establishment and the Newbies should make for fun late-night fodder even without Steven Colbert’s satirical masterpieces to keep our heads from exploding.
Harvey A. Gold