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November 12, 2009

Fulfill the Promises or Face Consequences

Tony Soltero

There's a lot of anger out there. It's been out there for several years, and every year Americans take the occasion of elections to express this anger.


There are good reasons for all of this anger. The economy is in the ditch. Jobs are scarce, and what jobs remain continue to get exported overseas. Our government happily subsidizes the offshoring of our jobs under the excuse of "free trade," oblivious to the American lives destroyed in the process.


And as our jobs disappear, so does the availability of health care; after all, America is the only Western country in which access to health insurance depends upon one's employer. Teabaggers aside, overall public support for health-care reform remains real and deep – millions of Americans have been fighting their insurance providers for far too long – assuming they even have health insurance to begin with.


It was against this miserable economic backdrop that President Barack Obama accomplished his historic victory a year ago. And his Democratic Party built upon its significant gains two years prior to assume a decisive majority in both houses of Congress. The voters wanted change, and trusted the Democrats to deliver said change.


Now, a year later, the Democrats have suffered setbacks in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections. Though the Democrats snatched a beet-red Republican House seat in upstate New York on the same evening, the Beltway punditocracy solemnly declared that the Democrats are in serious trouble (the stories had been essentially pre-written a week before), and that they can only recover by moving to the "center" (as defined by the D.C. elitists).


It's a broken record. Whatever happens, whatever the outcome, whatever the results, the D.C. mediots all cluster together and pronounce that "the Democrats were far too aggressive and need to tone it down." Yada yada yada.


Well, I would actually agree that the Democrats are vulnerable next year, and that the 2010 elections could be a bloodbath for the donkey party. That is certainly possible. But to attribute this vulnerability to the Democrats in Washington being "too ambitious" is as wrongheaded a conclusion as one can possibly draw.


Most of the voters for Robert McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey cited the economy as their main motivating issue. In that regard, it's natural to take out one's anger on the incumbent political party – the ones in power are the ones who are going to get blamed. By that standard, the results in both states shouldn't be particularly surprising.


But lost in the noise is that the Democratic candidate in Virginia, Creigh Deeds, spent the whole summer running away from President Obama, and going through every possible motion to hide his party affiliation from the public. In his haste to convince the Virginia electorate – which voted decisively for President Obama in 2008 – that he wasn't one of them dirty libruls, he attracted next to no Republican votes. But he did manage to turn off thousands of Virginia Democrats, who decided State Senator Deeds wasn't anyone worth wasting a vote on.


The base stayed home, and Mr. Deeds got crushed. Running to the right never works for a Democrat. If the voters want a Republican in office, they'll vote for the Republican.


The New Jersey story was a bit different. Gov. John Corzine was deeply unpopular, and had been for several years – predating President Obama's election. He had failed to deliver on certain campaign promises – notably one to reduce state property taxes – and his association with Goldman Sachs wasn't exactly an asset either. So down he went.


And it is the New Jersey scenario that holds the most relevant lessons for the Democrats.


The lesson is this: The best way to get re-elected is by doing what the voters put you in there to do. The best way to lose an election is by not delivering on your campaign promises.


And the Democrats are in trouble, precisely, because – despite holding the White House and commanding majorities in both houses of Congress – they have not delivered on the "change" they promised. Quite the opposite. The Democrats have not been too aggressive; they have been too timid.


President Obama's predecessor threw almost a trillion dollars of taxpayer money at the banking industry. The Obama administration... did the same.


President Obama's predecessors indulged in a banking-deregulation orgy that almost destroyed our economic system. The Obama Administration has restored Wall Street regulations with all the speed, enthusiasm, and thoroughness of a teenager cleaning his room.


President Obama, in his all-important quest for "bipartisanship," watered down his economic stimulus to the point where the jobs it created failed to make up for job losses elsewhere, and wasted a third of the money in unproductive tax cuts. If he'd resisted his urges to appease Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, the stimulus would have been vastly more effective than it was.


Goldman Sachs executives continue to infest the White House, and continue to advise the administration.


And now there are signs that the administration is set to escalate the deeply unpopular and costly Afghanistan war.


Congress has smothered health-care reform under an avalanche of compromises designed to protect the insurance industry, leaving little room for health-care reform that actually helps real people.


The public wanted change. And the public hasn't seen much. It's been more of the same.


And if the Democrats in power don't learn that lesson soon and get off their duffs to pass sweeping, impactful legislation that actually improves citizens' lives, expect all that voter anger to remain firmly in place.


Except this time, it won't be directed at Republicans.


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