An old political mentor of mine once told me, “You don’t win a popularity contest pointing out how ugly your friends are.”
Today, sifting through the ashes of one of the dumbest and most counter-intuitive midterm campaigns in recent memory, the Democratic Party would do well to consider just that. It’d be a good start considering the ass-kicking that was doled out last night.
This morning, gripped by the type of political hangover that Teddy Kennedy would appreciate, we’re looking at a political landscape that has become more gridlocked, dysfunctional, and, in a word, dumber. Forget any actual legislative agenda for the last two years of Barack Obama’s lame duck presidency. Forget any bills being passed that don’t involve A) repealing the Affordable Care Act, B) investigating the already-investigated-ad-nauseum attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi, or C) further deregulating the financial and gun-control systems that have been choked and starved beyond anything resembling real and binding control.
And, for that matter, forget this putrid system of government improving in any foreseeable future.
How could this have happened? With Obama’s reelection and the Democratic victories across the board in 2012, pundits were preparing the GOP’s obituary in spades just two short years ago. It was well understood in political circles that the Republicans had misplayed a terrible hand: the demonification of women and minorities of every stripe and creed. It was the type of bungled and ugly message that only Joseph McCarthy and that old bigot George Wallace could’ve appreciated in terms of scope and rhetoric. For everyone else – every other conscientious citizen – it left them feeling dirty.
So, what was behind this reemergence of the Right as political majority?
Was it the work of a mastermind like Karl Rove?
A message that resonated with voters thirsty for change?
An organic groundswell that couldn’t, and wouldn’t, be stopped?
When future historians perform the autopsy they’ll find this midterm devoid of any of those explanations, a rarity in these cycles as usually there is a central issue or movement that leads to such an overwhelming sea change. What they’ll discover instead is a simple and seemingly inexplicable explanation: these Democrats were simply afraid to run.
For even the most casual of politicos it probably comes as little surprise that the Dems lacked the temerity and backbone to run as themselves. It’s been a long held tradition that liberals are terrified to speak openly about their positions, at least to the voters, and that they prefer to whisper their true intentions among themselves at lectures and cocktail hours, passing between each other secret handshakes that confer preferences for a healthy social safety net and well-funded education.
Thus, it stands to reason that if you want to beat a Democrat, if you want to truly run them into the ground, there’s only one play needed deployed by a Republican hopeful: call them a Democrat early and often.
Do that and watch them scatter like cockroaches on a wall.
These Democrats, if you can even call them that, were too terrified of their own shadows to run on any platform that didn’t specifically have a picture of their own president, the defacto leader of their party, with a comically large strike across his face. Look around your state, at your candidates, and see what I mean.
In Georgia we had one of the most comically inept slate of Democrats in the country. Michelle Nunn, senate hopeful and pulseless corpse, couldn’t run away from Obama and toward George H.W. Bush fast enough, a tactic that led to H.W. firing off press release after press release screaming that he didn’t endorse her. And what did she do? She. Kept. On. Doing. It.
Or how about John Barrow, perhaps the clumsiest politician I’ve ever seen, a principle-less loon who littered the airwaves with condemnations of Obama and commercials where he, wild-eyed and crazy-haired, bragged about cutting money to the arts and waved a pistol in the air like a madman.
For a gubernatorial candidate we had Jimmy Carter’s grandson Jason, a Democrat only in name who didn’t even bother to offer a platform outside of “I’d like to be governor, please.”
The result? A clean red sweep in the Peach State where, only months ago, pundits were chomping at the bit at the possibility of a liberal revolution.
While these were undoubtedly weak candidates – though Nunn and Carter both had the pedigree to have faired better – the results were only made worse by the fact that they all tried to out-Republican their Republican opponents, a strategy which hasn’t worked. Not now, not ever.
Quite frankly, the onus lies with Democrats who have ceded every message and battleground to the Republicans and allowed them to control the narrative – allowing Obama to be characterized as an ineffective tyrant and the first major reform of the healthcare system in a generation as his, I don’t know, master socialist plan? – in such a way as to render their own chances D.O.A. Instead of taking to the pulpit and fighting the rhetoric, they’ve decided to compete over who disliked Obama more.
The problem with that is that Democrats will never be Republicans. At least until they switch parties anyway, which, with these wimps, would be a blessing from on high. Maybe last night’s shellacking will be enough to prove that candidates are better off jostling for dominance of message and presenting actual, substantive plans – which, in case you didn’t notice, were in short supply this political season – than simply rolling over and hoping the Republicans don’t call them what they are.
If history is any indicator though, and with these sad-sack Democrats it certainly is, it’s just a matter of time until the pointing resumes.