Democrats are at a crossroads. A year after bolstering Congressional majorities and winning the White House,
they face declining poll numbers and the prospect of costly 2010
midterm elections. A conservative resurgence, culminating in Tuesday's Republican victory, has many Democrats running
for cover and hedging to the right. Health care reform, President
Obama's primary focus in his first year,
may now be killed
by the very Democrats who toiled on it. From the president to
rank-and-file House members, what's next for the Democratic party?
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein explores that question in a series of posts, written over the past 24 hours, touching on everything from Obama's governing style to the nature of democracy itself. Klein looks to the immediate aftermath of the Coakley loss and the immediate prospects of health care reform to explain, more broadly, the state of the Democratic Party as it has developed over the past year and must proceed in the next year. He writes:
There's nothing about Scott Brown's victory that needs to derail health-care reform in particular, or the rest of Obama's 2010 agenda in general. But if Democrats decide to cower and hide, they can end Obama's presidency on Brown's behalf. That said, I really wonder what the Democratic Caucus thinks will happen if they let health-care reform slip away and walk into 2010 having wasted a year of the country's time amidst a terrible recession. It won't be pretty, I imagine. If health-care reform passes, the two sides can argue over whether it was a success. If it fails, there's no argument.On Dems's results-based strategy:
Obama's presidency has tried to show, not tell. He's not given speeches about how government can work. He's not tried to change minds about the theoretical possibility of government working. He's tried to make government work. Winning achievements, not arguments, has been at the center of the administration's agenda. But that's meant letting the government work. And that turns out to be an ugly thing, full of deals with pharmaceutical companies and concessions to Nebraska and delays and press releases and controversy and anger and process stories and confusion. Americans don't like Washington, and they like it less when they see it more. Obama's strategy has meant they see it constantly, and there's no one really guiding them through its thickets.On electoral prospects:
So they lost their 60th seat in the Senate. Bummer. But they were always going to lose that seat. In fact, they only got it because of Arlen Specter's defection and the few thousand votes that provided Al Franken's margin in Minnesota. And frankly, they got the better draw: Democrats are going to have an easier time defending seats in Minnesota and Pennsylvania than Republicans will defending a seat in Massachusetts. [...] Brown is no mythical beast. He's one senator with one vote representing a constituency that's far to his left.On the nature of Democrats and democracy:
The fundamental pact between a political party and its supporters is that the two groups believe the same thing and pledge to work on it together. And the Democratic base feels that it has held to its side of the bargain. It elected a Democratic majority and a Democratic president. It swallowed tough compromises on the issues it cared about most. It swallowed concessions to politicians it didn't like and industry groups it loathed. But it persisted. Because these things are important. That's why those voters believe in them. That's why they're Democrats.Klein's grand unified theory of Democrats is that, come Obama's inauguration, they had no real choice but to transform from big-promise visionaries into detail-oriented managers. This transformation made their decline in popularity inevitable. But Democrats remain legislatively powerful, and the best way to regain popularity, Klein argues, is to embrace that power, use it, and prove that Democratic policies are effective even if their politics are unpopular. Klein is rare among pundits in his optimistic belief that policy work drives electoral prospects, not the other way around.