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In 2006 and 2008, Democrats enjoyed watershed elections that, on the surface, seemed to herald in a new age of progressive politics. In 2006, for the first time in decades, not a single Democratic incumbent lost in the House or Senate. In 2008, voters elected even more Democrats to both chambers of Congress and, of course, made Barack Obama President.

It can safely be said that both elections were nationalized. Democrats won because they were not Republicans. Republicans lost because they ran the country into a ditch and it was time for them to go.

The new huge majorities imbued the progressive base with a fantastic amount of hope. When Specter switched parties, providing the 60th Democratic vote in the Senate, anticipation amongst rank and file Democrats was ran thick. Finally, many suggested, we’d see our party take the reins and roll back so much of what had gone wrong in the previous eight – or thirty – years. And there’d be nothing Republicans could do about it.

On paper, it sounded great.

And it never happened.

Looking back, it’s not hard to see why.

Especially in nationalized elections, it’s easy to forget that all politics is local. The truth is, legislators like Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, and Mary Landrieu are every bit as concerned about winning re-election as Bernie Sanders and Dick Durbin are. And the progressive agenda espoused by the majority of the majority simply doesn’t wash with their constituents. I know many progressives would have liked to have seen Harry Reid use a system of carrots and sticks in order to compel party discipline, but that was never going to happen, and for understandable reasons. Leaders don’t (indeed, can’t) throw their most vulnerable to the wolves.

Something progressives need to understand is that these folks are under constant assault. Every single day, large swaths of the electorate (especially seniors, aka voters) in Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska begin their day listening to Glenn Beck or Laura Ingraham. At noon, Rush Limbaugh is there to tell them that a vote for cloture is a vote for the bill. At 3, Hannity takes over for three hours. When he finishes, Mark Levin picks up the baton and rolls until nine. All day long, if people turn on their radio, they are likely to hear dishonest fusillades attacking the progressive agenda and any politicians advancing it. And when these hosts sense blood, they turn into sharks.

The 2008 electorate heard “Emplyee Free Choice Act”. In 2009, talk radio listeners heard, “Union thugs taking away your secret ballot and using a tire iron to get you to sign your union card.” In 2008, most of American heard that Democrats would end American involvement in ill-defined wars. In 2009, talk radio listeners are hearing that Democrats are surrendering to Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and providing lawyers to terrorists while they continue to try to blow up airplanes. In 2008 Americans heard that Democrats will enact sensible energy policies and move to counteract global warming. In 2009, talk radio listeners heard that global warming was a fraud cooked up by greedy scientists living off government grants. In 2008, voters heard that health care reform would be open and transparent and paid for by repealing the bush tax cuts. In 2009, over 20 million people heard, every day for 15 hours a day, that the government was taking over the health care system, that Democrats had cut secret deals with insurance and pharmaceutical companies, they’d be forced to purchase insurance from one of health insurance corporations that caused the problems and that if their insurance was too good, they’d have to pay an additional tax.

The truth is, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson, in particular, have been savaged over the last 6 months. The talkers are well-aware that these Senators are vulnerable on a good day; by demagoging the health care debate and scaring the hell out of seniors and tea-baggers, Rush and his ditto-heads owned the summer. In July I watched as an angry crowd of unruly and ill-informed seniors savaged Senator Ben Cardin – in liberal Maryland – at a town hall meeting. One can only imagine how bad things must have been for the Democrats representing red states.

Indeed, if you can read, you don’t have to imagine. The Politico just reported what happened when Ben Nelson went out for pizza.

First, a man heckled him. Within seconds, the entire restaurant was booing him. He had to leave.

This is why Barack Obama has to shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for Democrat’s precarious electoral position. The dynamic I sketched out above isn’t a difficult one to discern – especially for an ex-Senator. Knowing he was swept into power on the tail end of an electoral shift, his team should have realized that he needed to take the lead (and the brunt of the criticism) in selling a progressive agenda to Americans. He should have spent his summer in Arkansas, Nebraska and Louisiana. Instead of flirting with Republicans and constantly extolling the virtues of bi-partisanship, he should have been drawing attention to Republican obstructionism while constantly reminding Americans why they hired Democrats and fired Republicans.

If the President doesn’t move soon to provide cover for vulnerable Democratic legislators, we are likely to see a Democratic caucus in name only.

Progressives and centrists will go their separate ways in last-ditch attempts at saving their own skin. Good people will be replaced by politicians beholden to the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party. And Obama’s next three years in office will be his last.

Originally posted to Mike Stark on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 09:10 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Until we control part of the media, we have NO (12+ / 0-)

      messaging ability.

      Winning hearts and minds away from the Fox/Rush AM radio complex should be a priority on the left. When will that ever happen?

      Spot on analysis, Mike. Sucks, but the truth hurts.

      So, how do we counter that?

      "Politics isn't about big money or power games; it's about the improvement of people's lives" ~ The Late Sen. Paul Wellstone

      by MinistryOfTruth on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 09:17:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  honest to god... (6+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Neutron, DanD, chuckvw, blueoasis, fbc21ca, laker

        i have no idea.

        the cretins on the right have one thing correct:  our intellectual hubris is our Achilles heel.  Elite Democrats simply do not take the power of propaganda seriously enough.  They believe that the truth wins out of it's own merit.

        They simply do not understand that 50% of the population, by definition, is of below-average intelligence.  That a lot of people are prone to appealing platitudes, without regard to whether or not they hold up under scrutiny.  That a lot more people are flattered when you talk to them.  And that the talk radio show hosts actually create relationships with their listeners.

        People feel so frickin' honored to be able to speak with Rush Limbaugh.  Who do progressives have that they can relate to every day for three hours? Unscripted, unvarnished and unedited

        by Mike Stark on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 09:36:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, since Democrats are so much smarter (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bruddaone, MinistryOfTruth

          and there are more of them,  wouldn't you think  they could produce a  progressive radio personality  or two  that would capture  people's attention and develop  a following?

          •  Like Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz? /net (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ferallike, blueoasis

            A bill that supports the poor and the wealthy at the expense of the middle class is a ripoff not a compromise!

            by musicsleuth on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 10:06:18 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Not just a voice or two, we need a NETWORK (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            blueoasis, Deathtongue

            and not just a network, we are so behind on AM radio and Newspapers, every field of media is dominated by the RW because (surprise) Corporations own them and banks own them, and NeoCon policies are awesome for Corporatists and their special interests.

            We need a media message machine for the Truth, but, unfortunately, the big money is in lies

            "Politics isn't about big money or power games; it's about the improvement of people's lives" ~ The Late Sen. Paul Wellstone

            by MinistryOfTruth on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 10:14:53 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  We used to have newspapers and (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              news anchors that described the truth with video support and such. And then they were called the "liberal media" and bought up by what now 5 or is it 7 corporations. That is what needs to be fought are the antitrust rules that were allowed/ overturned so that corporations do not control the message.

              The late Senator Paul Wellstone was working on this as well as many other issues that were a huge burr in the collective corporate buttocks when he died in a plane crash in 2002 (that has never been fully investigated btw.)

              Antitrust & the Media--I

              On Capitol Hill progressive legislators like Senator Paul Wellstone have announced their support for applying antitrust to the existing media system. "There's no question that we have to start talking in a serious way about media, about media mergers and monopolies, about the balance between public and commercial television, about how we can encourage more diversity in ownership and in content, about the role that media plays in a democracy where most people don't vote," says Wellstone. Nor is this an issue with appeal only to the left. When Time Warner briefly removed Disney's ABC from its cable offerings in several cities in early May, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani told reporters, "This is an example of what happens when you allow monopolies to get too big and they become too predatory and then the consumer is hurt. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the Justice Department has spent so much time on Microsoft and so little on this industry."

              The beatings will continue until morale improves. -8.50, -6.92

              by ferallike on Thu Jan 21, 2010 at 12:35:54 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  We have a network - $ and ads. The Ds, and BO, (0+ / 0-)

              could have set up a permanently funded media campaign to extol the virtues of Ds in general and specific policies in particular, with paid media, all over TV, radio, web, print, you name it.  

              As in a well run campaign.  As in BO's campaign.

              A modern equivalent of FDRs fire side chats.  Only the media won't do it for free anymore.  When was that last time a president's Saturday 'talk' was covered with more than the briefest blurb?  (Web broadcast doesn't count.  If its not on TV, it doesn’t exist for most peeps. And if its not tediously overrepetative it is soon forgotten.)

              They choose not to.  Why?  IMO, in part, they thought they could control the media through WH press releases, photo ops, etc.  Worked before.  But, that media world is GONE.  In part, it was a genuine desire to 'change politics' and 'end the permanent campaign'.  Why?  In part, because they wrongly thought the public wanted it.  In part because it IS corrosive of good governance, and it is manipulative and in a very real sense non-(if not anti-democratic).  Too bad its here to stay.  August proved that, if any more was needed.  And if the 'good guys' aren't counter-manipulating (or simply manipulating for their own ends) the other side will win by default.  HCR proved that, hell BuschCo proved that, if proof was ever needed.

              But also in part because THEY wanted it.  Governing is hard work.  Governing AND campaigning simultaneously must be Herculean.  The Rethugs have the easy way to do it: they just rely on and reply to their corporate masters, who are after all always campaigning about their brand and soap.

              Well, Ds, step up and accept this dirty new reality. Or go home.  

              And watch the world burn.

        •  50% of the population? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ferallike, bruddaone

          You are a much nicer person than I am. I put that number at 75%, and I break it down as 50% uninterested/uninformed and 25% dittohead dumb ass.

          Smart people are in the minority by a long shot, and informed people are even less than that.

          "Politics isn't about big money or power games; it's about the improvement of people's lives" ~ The Late Sen. Paul Wellstone

          by MinistryOfTruth on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 10:17:13 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  They understand "too well," (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          so well that they pre-capitulate to the propaganda.  Ever notice how there will be a decent Dem proposal, and then as soon as the Republicans come up with a snappy slogan to counter, the proposal gets watered down into nothingness?

          Persuasion!  Other thing is, to make a truly democratic argument, Dems have to rally populism and truth, which means less power for the party leadership and their financial backers — informed, engaged populations are hard to control.

          Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

          by Simplify on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 10:56:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  The centrists are responsible for media (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Stark, blueoasis, lams712
      deregulation so it is their fault old folks in their districts wake up listening to Glen Beck.  Spare the excuses, you control goal post placement.  I am shaking the pillars, till you turn around.
  •  Cover them with what? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    icebergslim, pstoller78, AnonObamaAid

    A spitball?

    Tonight I'm going to party like it's 1929.

    by Bensdad on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 09:15:31 PM PST

  •  You had me until the end (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ORDem, lams712, pstoller78, RLMiller

    I'm just not sure Obama in hanging out in States that absolutely loath him and blame him anyway would have made any difference.

    And how much more cover can he given Nelson et al they pretty much got everythng they wanted.

    In the choice between changing ones mind and proving there's no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.

    by jsfox on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 09:16:45 PM PST

  •  So when you predict that Obama will be a one term (0+ / 0-)

    President, are you suggesting how this should be changed or cackling with glee?  

    I've never claimed to be a leader of the DK eco community

    by RLMiller on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 09:18:13 PM PST

  •  Maybe if Nelson (4+ / 0-)

    and other dems, most especially Obama, ever stood their ground on anything, they would be more respected.

    Don't you think Nelson could have made a compelling argument for single payer to those folks in the pizza joint.  Are principles are right.  And not just for progressive or liberals or whatever we are calling each other these days.

    Denial is complicity.

    by Publius2008 on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 09:23:25 PM PST

  •  Obama... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...has not given them anything to be for or against. Politics abhors a vacuum, and so they have no foundational support.  It is fine to think you are going to tack to the middle, but if you don't gove your supporters something to support, you end up with no supporters... particularly in Nebraska.

  •  Boos for Nelson (5+ / 0-)

    Some parts of the society are being tea-bagger-ized.  This is because this kind of movement is giving shape to the fears that working folks feel right now.

    We all know we're getting screwed.

    The explanations provided by the media as to why this is happening don't make sense.

    The tea people have rushed in with simplistic answers that appeal to the worst in human nature.

    The Democratic Party needs to be able to rush in with Progressive messaging and some sort of hope for folks.  We need to provide an alternative.

    I won't tell anyone that Reagan was a turd.

    by bink on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 10:00:54 PM PST

    •  Exactly. (4+ / 0-)

      Absent the Corporate Sponsored Public Policy angle, Americans are left with nobody to blame but Government, the one institution that is capable of protecting us from unbridled corporate power.

      We have to start articulating a message that says that Government can, has and does do good. We need to start to point out the despicable Saboteurs that are the Republican Leadership that are trying to drown American Government in a bathtub. They don't believe that Government should work for people.

      peace, bink...

      Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

      by k9disc on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 10:13:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  We should out teabaggerize the teabaggers (0+ / 0-)

      and force through progressive policies BUT allow every single on of these baggers to opt out.

      If they don't want in let them do without with no chance of rescission for 7 years. Let them live their convictions while the rest of the nation leaves them behind.

  •  Why don't common sense diaries like these... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mike Stark, blueoasis, pkbarbiedoll

    make the rec list...I don't understand it...

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