How to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

Will Rogers’ old aphorism—"I belong to no organized political party; I’m a Democrat"—was, at one point, an endearing shorthand for the messiness of Democratic politics. Now, however, it may threaten Democratic chances to gain back the House and hold the Senate this year.

A few examples:

* Today President Obama travels to North Carolina for an event. Democratic senator Kay Hagan is staying in Washington, DC, for the Senate session. Now, while commendable, it is rather interesting that she couldn’t spend a couple of hours welcoming the leader of her party to her state as she gears up for a tough election battle. One has to wonder if she’s putting distance between herself and the President.

* Gov. Brian Schweitzer, putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, was asked in an interview to name one positive thing accomplished by Pres. Obama. After much reflection he came up with this:
“My mother, God rest her soul, told me ‘Brian, if you can’t think of something nice to say about something change the subject,’” he said.

But he couldn’t help himself, slamming Obama’s record on civil liberties (the NSA revelations were “un-effing-believable”), his competency (“They just haven’t been very good at running things”), and above all, Obamacare (“It will collapse on its own weight”).
This is the man touted as one of the 2016 frontrunners: someone who wants to expurgate Obama’s two terms as President from the collective memory.

* In spite of the urging from the Obama Administration—and in spite of the fact that Harry Reid won’t bring the bill up for a vote—numerous Senate Democrats have joined Bob Menendez in his Iran sanctions bill, including freshman Senator Cory Booker, he of the appearance on morning television two years ago excoriating Obama for being mean to bankers. We are finally on the road to a peaceful resolution of the Iranian problem, and many of the President’s own party want to stab that process in the heart.

It should be said that a majority of Democrats still stand by the President. But compare that to the lockstep devotion granted to G.W. Bush by his party. He could’ve run over a kitten on national television and his party wouldn’t have batted an eyelash.

Democrats are Democrats, and a certain amount of messiness in our politics is inevitable. But in the runup to the midterm elections, fissures are growing, not contracting. Voters, to a large degree, choose for whom to vote based on the image the party presents of itself. Right now neither party rides high in voters’ estimations; that fact favors Republicans, as they’re already in control of the House. Being so, voters may decide that the devil they know is better than taking a chance on fractious Democrats.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Democrats’ reactions to Obamacare.
Democrats are increasingly alarmed that the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity is swamping vulnerable Dems with anti-Obamacare ads, leaving them with no way to fight back, the New York Times reports this morning.
If Democrats had touted the many benefits of the law, rather than running away, triangulating, or voting to “reform” it as 67 of them just did last week, Koch-fueled ads would have little effect. Politicians who stand proudly behind their party’s signal achievement of the past 50 years are in many ways inoculated from attack ads; such politicians are seen to have principles, and to fight for those principles, which is attractive to voters. But if a politician hems and haws about Obamacare, it’s no surprise that his constituents might look askance at him. It is the Democrats’ weak-kneed response to the ACA which opens them to attack ads.

Of course, the Democratic Party will never be like the GOP, marching in lockstep, run from the top down. But, a modern political party has to show some unity, has to present a face that, while there is diversity, there are overriding themes and principles which unite and motivate the party. Without that unifying message, the party will lose the midterms, and make the final two years of Obama’s term a war of attrition, with not much getting done. Hopefully it’s not too late for Democrats to learn this lesson, set differences aside for the moment, and unite to bring Pres. Obama a Congress with which he can work. The country’s fate depends on it.

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