Is a Tea Party Dynamic Growing on the Left?
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Most of the blame in Martha Coakley's defeat Tuesday is on her. She had a series of blunders, some of which were such a ridiculous caricature of liberal elitism it makes me wonder if she was a GOP double agent. So: That point, first and most importantly. She ran a terrible campaign and gets the lion's share of the blame.
There were also undoubtedly statewide issues that we will only know about anecdotally, if at all. For example, one of Andrew Sullivan's readers wrote of Bay State Democrats: "Twice they have fiddled with the election laws in the past five years...to control the process." That kind of screwing around brings to mind Tom DeLay's escapades in Texas, and to everyone but partisans such scheming looks plainly corrupt. Another factor may have been gender; so far women are zero for eight in gubernatorial and Senate races there. Presumably it is not a coincidence.
Still, it would be crazy for Democrats to not see some larger warning signs. For one, Barack Obama needs to freshen up his stump speech. He now has a track record, and the populist rhetoric of the 2008 campaign trail is not wearing too well. I listen to his speeches now and contradictory hyperlinks pop into my head. For example:
You know, we always knew that change was going to be hard...there were going to be some who stood on the sidelines, who were protectors of the big banks, and protectors of the big insurance companies, protectors of the big drug companies, who would say, you know what, we can take advantage of this crisis -- because it's going to be so bad, even though we helped initiate these policies, there's going to be a sleight of hand here because we're going to let Democrats take responsibility.
Does he not realize that people will increasingly call bullshit on such obvious discrepancies? Is he not aware it will discourage his base, because that is precisely the audience paying the closest attention? Coakley ran a lousy campaign. Know what helps make for a good one? A record to run on, a way to appeal to people's aspirations and a reasonable expectation that what is being promised on the hustings will be delivered. Coakley was in no position to do any of that.
After his election Obama had energetic supporters champing at the bit to have their idealism harnessed; he continually stoked it during the campaign and they truly were fired up and ready to go. Since then he has made back room deals with the very industries that have been systematically looting the middle class. On health care why was he not constantly banging the drum for the reforms he considered most important, giving speeches in the backyards of recalcitrant lawmakers, urging supporters to contact their representatives, and generally exhorting his base to be passionately involved? It is the most baffling dissipation of enthusiasm since George Bush told the nation to go shopping in the wake of 9/11.
That is where the longer term trends are risky for the Democrats. In the aftermath of the attacks Republicans failed to direct the enormous public willingness to sacrifice, appealed constantly to their fears, and generally discouraged people from being engaged. Is it any wonder the country turned to new leadership a few years later?
Core supporters also became dissatisfied as basic principles of fiscal responsibility, level headed foreign policy and respect for individual liberty were casually disregarded. Then there is perhaps the biggest fraud of all, the promise - promoted loudly for decades - that lower taxes would unleash America's entrepreneurial spirit, lead to economic expansion and still provide adequate federal revenue. Instead it led to the worst decade since the Depression.
To the extent that the Tea Party movement is about pure antipathy towards government or unhappiness with being out of power, it is nothing more than garden variety conservative bellyaching. A good part of it is deep dissatisfaction with having core principles routinely betrayed over a period of years, though, and that should worry Democrats.
Whether it was a failure to stop the Iraq war on retaking Congress, the refusal to act as a check on the Bush administration, the capitulation on FISA, or more recently the inability to even contemplate reform that does not look like a giveaway to favored lobbies, liberals have a damning bill of particulars against their ostensible allies that has been stacking up for years. Martha Coakley has nothing to do with that. The revolt now in full bloom on the right started with pent up frustration and burst on the national scene with a thumping. It is not hard to see the Democrats of early 2010 in a similar danger to the Republicans of early 2006.