It’s hard to have a Democratic Party when a significant number of “Democrats” refuse to, well, stand up for Democratic principles. For me this is the all too obvious conclusion from yesterday’s special election, which saw Republican Scott Brown wrest Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Brown campaigned vowing to kill health care reform, the cause for which Kennedy said he devoted much of his public life. Kennedy should be churning up the earth there in Arlington.
Yep, that’s what it amounted to because there are plenty of Democrats in Name Only (DINOs) out there. By now, you know who they are. “Independent Democrat” Joe Lieberman. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson. Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln. North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad. There are plenty of them in the House as well. For these “Democrats”, being a Democrat means never having to tow the Democratic line when it gets the least bit risky or inconvenient. Their real interests are easy to see: they look out for the interest of those who are keeping their reelection coffers full.
The way it is supposed to work is that the Democratic Party stands up for the middle class, the workingman and the disenfranchised. This is because clearly the Republican Party won’t stand up for them. In reality, most Democrats in Congress will put their reelection before principle. You win reelection by being milquetoast, not by being controversial. You want voters to barely know who you are but you also want enough money in your campaign coffers to scare off any real challenger. What you really want are most of the voters to be apathetic and stay at home so you win by default. After all, the money is good, the perks are wonderful and the health insurance is great. Too bad the working class people in your district or state will not have the same privileges.
Voter anger in Massachusetts was visceral. Voters were not voting for Scott Brown because they agreed with him. They are angry that despite a year of having veto proof majorities in Congress, Democrats have done so little for them. Why reward demonstrated incompetence? The banks and Wall Street were bailed out. They were laid off. The best thing Congress did for them was extend their unemployment and COBRA benefits. Living on food stamps and moving into your parents’ basement is not “change you can believe in”. You need a job that pays a living wage. If you want to make the people who voted for you happy, you need to pass legislation that actually improves their lives. You can do it when you actually have veto proof majorities in both houses of Congress. That is you can do it unless those majorities are mere paper majorities. When push came to shove, we clearly had paper majorities. Instead of change we could believe in, we got endless dithering from both houses, but more so in the Senate and a weak tea health reform proposal that smelled so bad it was hard for anyone to like it.
The truth is that Senate Democrats really did not want health care reform. That’s why they were busily engaged in dithering it to death. Real health care reform takes nerve and will. In short, it is politically risky and ticks off those who are funding your reelection campaign. It is so much easier to engage in endless debate rather than actually accomplish something. In truth, most Senate Democrats are relieved that Brown won Kennedy’s seat. Now they have an excuse for inaction, which is where they prefer to be. The back peddling on Capitol Hill today is a sorry sight to see but oh so predictable.
It’s days like today that make me ashamed to be a Democrat. Franklin Roosevelt would not recognize his own party. No party really represents the working class anymore. Both parties claim to be all concerned about the working class, but not enough to do anything to actually improve their lots in life or address the increasingly serious problems that are beyond any one individual’s ability to control.
The solutions are hard and require risk, will and determination. If Republicans can have their tea parties, Democrats can and must have theirs, with similar passion but without the blatant bigotry and nonsense. They might start by calling out assholes like Joe Lieberman in public meetings. In actuality, it has been underway for years, but it obviously needs to be accelerated. It involves nominating and electing real Democrats, the sort that have demonstrated they have stood up for the working and middle class time and time again, the sort who do not wilt under pressure or compromise their principles for the sake of expediency. It means we need a party of Howard Deans and not Ben Nelsons.
The illusion was nice while it lasted, but if our blinders were on, they are now off. It’s real Democrats we must have to have real change, not a party full of DINOs. We have to nominate and elect the ones with fire in their souls and determination in their bellies. If a “Democrat” in Congress cannot stand up for the working class and the middle class when it counts, he or she is useless.
In 2008 Democrats merely got to the crest of the hill. In 2010, it’s clear that there is a much larger and higher mountain ahead of us and the barbarians (the Republicans) are manning the path to the summit. Only the dedicated and hearty are going to get us to the top so government can actually work for the people again.