DEMS, THE PROBLEM IS NOT WHAT'S ON YOUR PRIORITY LIST. IT'S WHAT ISN'T.
Democrats seem to have divided themselves into two camps in the wake of Tuesday's elections. Unfortunately, neither camp seems to understand the meaning of what the public is telling them.
One camp is going wobbly. (Yes, Democrats! Going wobbly! Imagine my surprise!)
McClatchy reports "already-skittish moderate Democrats" now have "fresh reasons ... to worry." The Washington Post reports that Democrats are "nervous" and "moderate and conservative Democrats took a clear signal from Tuesday's voting, warning that the results prove that independent voters are wary of Obama's far-reaching proposals and mounting spending, as well as the growing federal debt." Politico reports that Democratic incumbents "from red states and Republican-leaning districts" are "worried." The LA Times reports that Dems on the Hill are "anxious," and will now resist the White House's ambitious policy agenda.
The other camp thinks the only way forward to press on with the Obama agenda exactly as written:
As they assessed the results, Democratic lawmakers and party strategists said their judgment was that voters remained very uneasy about the economy and did not see Democrats producing on the health, energy and national security changes they promised when voters swept them to power only a year ago.
"Most of us ran on that," said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia and president of the party's freshman class. "We must deliver. I need to give Democrats something to be excited about."
..."I think the issues of health care and energy independence are important issues the president has outlined early on, and those are issues we ought to focus on," said Representative Allen Boyd, a centrist Florida Democrat.
Are these the only two choices? Ditch everything or change nothing?
I have an idea: why not keep eyes on the prizes in the Obama agenda -- but push the economy to the top of the list? Isn't that what voters are howling for? Some sense that somebody in government understands their desperation and has some help to offer? And understands their anger about how well the fat cats are doing?
Once again, I'll quote Nick Baumann of Mother Jones:
... liberals' biggest priority should be restoring people's faith in government. Part of that requires actually solving people's problems. That means fixing the economy. It would also help to if Democrats avoided bailing out any more widely reviled industries, and maybe regulated some stuff.
I know, I know: to us wonky types, health care reform is addressing the nation's economic problems. An energy overhaul is addressing the nation's economic problems. I understand that, you understand that -- but ordinary Americans don't. They want jobs, now. They want Wall Street taken to the woodshed, now, and for real. At the very least, they want a sign that the administration feels their pain and gets it.
If I'd been Barack Obama, I'd have used as much political capital as he's using now on health care to get as big a stimulus as I could right off the bat, and to seriously re-regulate Wall Street. I'd have put a much larger percentage of the stimulus into the visible creation of work -- shovel-ready projects that literally involve shovels, or something similar. I'd have wanted people to see jobs being created. Then, if we needed a second stimulus, there might have been real popular support for it. And I'd have been trying to reach out to governors and mayors even before I was inaugurated, to say, You damn well better make sure these projects are ready to roll, because I need them up and running right away -- and so do you. If the job creation is obvious to people when they watch or read the news, they'll support it. And then I can keep helping you.
I'd have fought to keep cash-for-clunkers going, and I'd have unleashed holy hell on the people running it until it ran smoothly. Same for the stimulus -- why the hell am I reading that many of the government's claims of job creation by the stimulus aren't credible? Dude, if you can't get the trains to run on time, maybe you should get a real job instead of running for president as a Keynesian during a deep recession.
Oh, and spanking Wall Street should have been one of the first items on the to-do list. It hasn't happened. It probably won't. That's a disaster.
Many of the people who are disgruntled now would have responded well to all this -- yes, including people who are now teabaggers. A lot of them don't know from ideology. They hear that the answer is deficit hawkishness and limited government, but many of them would have responded well to an approach that's very much the opposite.
The public does want what Obama wants -- at least the public says so when asked. But the public really wants economic justice and help with basic, immediate money issues -- and it's not waiting to be asked about that. The public is screaming that.
And the Democrats aren't paying attention.