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Posted by gustav at 08:01PM, Tuesday, December 01st, 2009

Coakley vs Brown, and the inexorable rightward trend of the Democratic Party

I was reading a post on Pamshouseblend about a "secret" LGBT strategy meeting from last week, and related rumors that, in the wake of Coakley's defeat, the administration and congressional Democrats will shy away from their recent fierce advocacy (har har har) of progressive social issues. I'm left wondering, once again, whether the Democrats are actively aiming for ineptitude and further defeat.

According to the post:

'Many in the room lamented that the political climate is not good for pushing a pro-equality agenda right now. "If she loses, all bets are off," said one attendee of the meeting. "The Democrats will stay away from social issues, and focus like a laser beam on jobs.'

A couple things about this:

1. Didn't Obama tell us he should be president because he could multitask? The problem one year in isn't that he (and the Congress) have been distracted by trying to do too much on social issues. The problem is that he's been multitasking on giving taxpayer money to the banking industry *and* making secret deals with Big Pharma and big insurance *and* stonewalling (heh) on gay rights issues *and* having his justice department denigrate gay marriage in the most contemptible language *and* bombing new and exciting countries *and* expanding Bush's propaganda, charter schools, and executive privilege programs. Maybe if he'd done some of the stuff he promised his base during the campaign, Democratic voter turnout in MA would have been high enough to push Coakley over the top.

2. If the Massachusetts Senate election was a referendum on anything, it sure wasn't social issues. As the Suffolk poll makes clear, people here care most about jobs and health insurance costs. The NY Times map strikes me as pretty compelling at linking votes for Brown to unemployment rates.

Is it a coincidence that the late trend away from Coakley roughly coincides with her flip-flop on the Stupak amendment, her pledge to be the 60th vote for Obama's health insurance crony capitalism bill, and Brown's pledge to be the 41st vote against it? Regardless, mid-term elections are generally seen as referenda on the presidential administration, and I think it's pretty hard to argue that this President has projected the image of actually giving a shit about either jobless rates or health care reform.

For the former, think back to his "bitter" remarks about (implicitly) racist blue-collar workers during the campaign (and brush aside the irony at Mr. God's-in-the-mix-as-an-excuse-for-backing-separate-but-equal mocking people for irrationally clinging to religion) -- and to the deference he showed to billionaire bankers when crafting the open-ended TARP legislation, and then the subsequent callousness he displayed to union workers, on whom he forced concession after concession, with the auto bailouts.

For the latter, just look at the health insurance kabuki: he started by ensuring single-payer was off the table (and denigrating single-payer activists, as he and his office have systematically denigrated nearly every part of the progressive base), even though in repeated polls it has strong majority support with the public, and is, of course, cheaper than both our current, poorly-performing health care and any of the options the administration and Democrats in Congress considered. Next, Mr. Transparency held secret meetings with Big Pharma and hospital and insurance executives to give away bargaining chips before there was even a plan; after that were numerous empty promises on the ill-defined public option, on all of which Democrats were quick to cave (frequently citing budget as a reason -- shortly before they passed the biggest defense budget in world history LINK); and finally was the incessant caving to right-wing dog Democrats and Republicans, peaking with the misogynistic, Republican-like Stupak amendment. This whole affair demonstrated two things: Obama and congressional Democrats don't actually care about his base or the promises he made to them -- he's been quick to sell away reproductive health rights and any universality, and quick to quibble about budgets (after signing over trillions to the banks;) second, that Democrats aren't strong. When Republicans dicker, Democrats don't say "go boil your head," as Republicans said to Democrats under Bush. They cave. Every time.

Do you think that alone doesn't account for dampening turnout amongst the base? Remember Obama's infamous "fierce advocate" bullshit line? Remember that Massachusetts was the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage? We are arguably the most liberal state. As social issues go, why should we be motivated to turn out for the incumbent party, when a year of majority (and supermajority) rule with a "friendly" president has gotten us proposals for extending charter school funding, a Justice brief comparing my marriage to that of an uncle to his underage niece, a POd Congressional Black Caucus, and, um, a hate crimes bill that had to be tied to a defense appropriations bill to pass? If this is what Democratic party rule gets us, after all the empty promises that we just had to wait to get a friendly president and a majority in Congress, why should we turn out?

So what do voters see? A capitulating, spineless, and unprincipled President and congressional majority, who constantly lie to the voters about what they'll do, and then enact nasty, pro-big-business insurance bailouts with nice fat excise taxes for the proles, during a period of record high unemployment. Once again, if Democrats are going to act like Republicans anyway, why should voters turn out for candidates who lack the courage of their convictions? The American public has demonstrated time and again that it prefers an honest scoundrel to a backstabber marketed as a "progressive."

Ultimately, I have a lot of trouble believing that a team that campaigned as shrewdly as Obama's could truly be this politically inept. One explanation, of course, is that the campaign team is much different from the administration: Obama went from Howard Dean-style netroots organizing, combined with savvy (if dishonest and misogynist) branding, to hiring Rahm Emanuel, a member of the (much-derided-by-Obama) Clinton administration, and culpable for at least some of its first term disasters. Obama also kept on Ben Bernanke, a Bush appointee, and hired a lot of other former Clinton administration personnel, like Larry Summers. The question remains, though, why someone smart enough to assemble such a successful campaign team should assemble an administration with such a dismal record of progressive accomplishment. An alternative explanation that takes that into account is that Obama never intended to be remotely progressive. He's earned a lot of money for the finance industry, and, if he's successful at getting the health insurance industry wealth transfer bill passed, he'll have earned a lot for Big Pharma and insurance, as well. He's a big-business president, just as George W Bush was. The finance and health industries cannily backed him when they realized that, after Bush, another Republican would be unpalatable to an angry public -- and, perhaps, that someone with a D after his name might be able to get more big-business perks through before the party apologists woke up and realized what was going on. The way things are going, those industries are likely to get the most bang for their buck by backing Republicans by 2011. Regardless, at this point, should Obama fail to be reelected, he can always retire to a lucrative career in the private sector and cash some of those IOUs.

Ultimately, as always, I believe that if a policy decision seems nonsensical on its surface, you can usually figure out what's going on by following the trail of money. The American people may be suffering as a result of Democratic policies over the past couple of years -- and that certainly had a big impact on the vote -- but that doesn't mean that Democratic politicians are suffering. Geithner's been back and forth between the finance sector and the public sector. Look at those campaign contribution numbers (and those for other members of Congress, too.) Who wants to bet that Obama will do the same?

So whose failure is this election again?
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