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Late Night: To Survive 2010, Dems Need to Explain How 2011 Will Be Different

(by twolf)

It’s hard to consider this the most serious indignity that liberals have been forced to suffer  since the start of the supposed Democratic-majority era a year and a half ago, but chalk it up as adding insult to injury, in more ways than one (via The Hill):

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will put forth his party’s case for regaining its congressional majorities this fall during a speech Thursday in Washington…. In his remarks, the Kentucky Republican will say his party was portrayed as broken and beaten down following the swearing-in of President Obama in 2009, but is ready to lead again in 2010.

… “We shared [ordinary Americans’] frustration. And we girded for the fight, confident that we had supporters behind us. We broke out of the Washington echo chamber and fought the government-driven solutions that Democrats were proposing. We got our groove back.

I’ve been more lenient than many of the writers here in assessing Barack Obama’s shortcomings as President, but allowing Mitch McConnell to think he has anything resembling a “groove”… well, that’s just unforgivable.

But that’s what happens when you cede control of the political debate as Obama and the Democrats have done.  An article in the New York Times today accidentally underlines this point through the surreal, what-planet-are-they-on feeling generated by the lead paragraphs:

If passage of the financial regulatory overhaul on Thursday proves anything about President Obama, it is this: He knows how to push big bills through a balky Congress. . .

. . . The financial regulatory bill is the final piece of a legislative hat trick that also included the stimulus bill and the landmark new health care law. Over the last 18 months, Mr. Obama and the Democratic Congress have made considerable inroads in passing what could be the most ambitious agenda in decades.

Mr. Obama has done what he promised when he ran for office in 2008: he has used government as an instrument to try to narrow the gaps between the haves and the have-nots. He has injected $787 billion in tax dollars into the economy, provided health coverage to 32 million uninsured and now, reordered the relationship among Washington, Wall Street, investors and consumers.

Of course, as the story admits, things sure don’t feel that way to the average person.  Why?  Because when faced with corporatist objections, the Obama administration allowed each of the initiatives the NYT mentions to be emasculated to the point of ineffectiveness, just for the sake of being able to say they “passed something.”

The natural result is that the people who most wanted Obama to achieve the progressive goals he campaigned on feel betrayed and discouraged.  The Obama administration is signaling that they think the Democratic majorities in Congress can survive the midterm elections if they manage to make the voting a referendum on the Republicans’ unchanged priorities:

Obama said he is responsible for instilling the recovery, but stressed that policies enacted by previous GOP-controlled Republicans and former President George W. Bush left the economy in a recession.

“What I’m absolutely convinced of is that we’re going to have a choice, not just in November but for years to come,” he said. . . .“This is going to be a choice between the policies that got us into this mess and my policies that are getting us out of this mess.

But having made so little concrete forward progress, how can Obama & Co. expect their base voters to be energized by such a choice?   Who’s going to rally behind the banner of continuing to be stuck in neutral, if only because it’s better than slipping into reverse?

As Jon Walker pointed out yesterday, even if they portray themselves as the victims of Republican (and faux-centrist Democratic) obstruction in the Senate, Obama and the Democrats will likely take the blame for letting themselves be boxed in by it (remember, Obama served in the Senate, so it’s not like he didn’t know who he’d be dealing with).

Atrios suggested a while back that Democrats should tackle the political challenge of the weak economy head-on, introducing a major jobs bill and campaigning on it even if it doesn’t pass.  I’d go him one better and say that when it fails, they should openly campaign on filibuster reform, giving the dry “process issue” flesh and blood by saying this is what will let them pass a jobs bill, and a public option for healthcare, and… well, all the politically (and substantively) positive things that Obama foolishly didn’t push harder for when he had the chance.

That’s the only way Democrats will earn any credit for truly being for the things they so often claim to support.  It may not outweigh the electoral anvil of a nearly 10% unemployment rate, but at least it will give core Democratic voters a reason to hope, and believe that they might be able to create change.  Remember when those used to be important?

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (