Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Daily Strike-1/20/10-A Somber Anniversary

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Exactly one year ago today, The Big Picture, his friend, Lady Strike, and I braved frigid temperatures on the national mall to watch President Obama's historic inauguration. At that point, we thought that Obama could do no wrong. We thought he would usher in a new era of liberal governance with huge Democratic majorities. Not to pour it on too much, but boy times have changed!

MA-SEN: Last night's loss really, really hurt. It was indeed a stomach punch, a death blow, whatever you want to call it. Perhaps even more disturbing than Brown's victory has been the Democratic party's reaction to it. Even before the polls closed, Democrats had formed a circular firing squad. The Coakley campaign blamed the national party, the national party blamed the Coakley campaign, etc. Every Democratic operative was more concerned about saving their own hide than they were about winning the race. After the election, liberals like Barney Frank (MA) and Anthony Weiner (NY) said on national TV that health care reform might be dead. Senate Democrats like Evan Bayh (IN), Jim Webb (VA) and Dianne Feinstein (CA) basically said that health care might need to wait until another day. The Democrat's sense of panic and despair lead me to believe that they think yesterday's message was: don't do anything!

I don't think that was the lesson of last night. I do think there were many lessons from last night, that all Democrats need to heed quickly.

1. Democrats must remember why they're Democrats. We are the party of the people. We are the party that fights for the little guy against the powerful. Republican Scott Brown ran as an "average Joe" against the big bad guys: political machines, corruption, big government. Democrats both locally and nationally did absolutely nothing to shed the "elitist" label. Obama had to continue the Bush bailouts, I understand that. But the Democrats did not have to cut secret deals with Pharmaceutical companies and the AMA to pass health reform. They didn't have to water down a credit card bill because lobbyists told them to. They didn't have to abandon the idea of a Consumer Protection Agency. The common thread here is that Democrats too often have been perceived as a in bed with powerful special interests. For a party that supposedly wants the government to be more trusted, they are certainly not helping themselves. Republicans will also be reactionary anti-government. Their anti-government sentiment is only an effective political weapon when the government is not making people's lives better.

2. You can't take voters for granted. Putting aside the national implications, Martha Coakley's loss is a lesson to any political candidate: never assume you are going to win an election. Coakley basically stopped campaigning after her December primary win. She didn't go around the state and shake hands with voters, she even scoffed at the very notion of standing outside Fenway Park in the cold to meet voters. For better or worse, voters respond strongly to this sort of arrogance and disregard. The only way to win an election, even in politically favorable territory, is to earn every vote.

3. If you're going to have an ambitious, complicated, far-reaching agenda, it better be successful. An aggressive legislative agenda that delivers for the American people is political gold. An aggressive legislative agenda that gets buried in the weeds of deal-making, special compromises and carve-outs can be ok in the long-run if people feel positive effects. An aggressive legislative agenda that gets buried in the weeds AND ultimately fails is catastrophic.

There is a lot more to say about what happened in Massachusetts, and it will certainly take me a long time to get over the fact that Ted Kennedy's replacement might kill health care reform. But Democrats need to keep their heads up. Put things in perspective: we still have huge majorities, and the American people expect us to deliver on our promises. Here are some pieces that give more insight into last night's debacle.

CONGRESS: That's right, Congress still exists and Democrats still have to take care of the nation's business! The Senate reconvened today for the first time since their pre-Christmas vote on health reform. Senator-elect Scott Brown was not sworn in yet, but Democrats at all levels are saying that they won't try to pass health reform before he is seated. The best option, in my view, is for the House to adopt the Senate's version of the bill, and then for both chambers to pass a separate bill making changes to the original bill under reconciliation. There is no indication at this point that House Democrats are willing to go along with this option, but I think they'll soon realize that they have no other choice.

The Senate did vote today 97-0 to confirm Beverly Baldwin Martin to be a U.S. Circuit Judge.

The House voted on a slew of suspension bills, including one that makes charitable contributions to the Haiti relief effort tax deductible (good news). They also voted on a couple of Indian land measures.

Hang in there, folks! We'll see you again tomorrow night.

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