Confession time: Before I started this diary, I put an hour into yet another screed filled with hand-wringing, navel gazing and blame placing. It was a righteous rant blaming everyone and anyone for a terrible night.
Then I deleted it. It didn't help.
There's enough of that filling the internets (including the rec list), teevee machines and the dead tree versions of the Internet.
We can't reverse the shellacking we took yesterday, but there are some lessons to learn, especially if the race for 2012 starts today.
The one thing from the original diary that stays here is the note that I wrote a postmortem of the 2009 elections 364 days ago.
I concluded with this:
The bottom line is that this election was over hyped outside of Virginia, New Jersey, Maine, and NY-23. This was no litmus test or referendum on the president or congress. That happens next year. We have one year left until the next election. Get to Work!
I fucked up that prediction. It was, in fact, a harbinger of things to come.
Grassroots (and astroturfed -- looking at you, Freedom Works and Tea Party Express) politics can be separated into two phases: Campaigning and lobbying.
Today we officially entered the lobbying phase. Welcome to hell. As a point of clarification, I am using "lobbying" in a very general sense. Citizens have the right to
petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
A citizen expressing a political opinion is "lobbying" as surely as a registered lobbyist in DC is "lobbying" when entertaining a Congressional staffer at a swank Capitol Hill restaurant.
The K Street lobbyists have the deep pockets to wave around the promise of campaign donations, junkets and cushy jobs when public service becomes tiresome. The high-powered lobbyist are also in Washington, DC. Washington Metro's trip planner tells me that it takes 10 minutes and $1.60 to travel from Farragut West (one block from K Street) to Capitol South (near the House office buildings) on the Orange Line. Members spend a minimum of Tuesday to Thursday most weeks in DC.
But you live in the member's district and your member is ultimately accountable to you and not the Koch Brothers. You can go to town halls. Does it suck that you might have to save a vacation/sick day because the member decided to hold the town hall at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday? You Betcha ;-). That's politics.
You can also write letters to the editor. You can write letters and emails to your House and Senate members. Sure you can keep posting here, but it does not count here. No one outside of the Great Orange Satan cares what you diary. Talk to your neighbors. Not us.
You can also find an issue and become an expert. Our very own RL_Miller tracked the stance of every GOP candidate on climate change. That was no small feat and she should be congratulated at every opportunity. Sadly, the Wonk Room's Brad Johnson had to report this morning that:
For the record, we know through their efforts that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18), Judy Biggert (IL-13), Jim Gerlach (PA-06) and Frank Wolf (VA-01) don't qualify as climate zombies.
Pick your "pet issue(s)" and learn everything about them. Keep in mind that the real action on these issues happens in the committees. The committees all have webpages and most of them broadcast their hearings. Just a word of caution on that. The majority party controls the committee webpages. It was Nancy Pelosi's idea to stream the meetings. Don't be surprised if John Boehner shuts that down out of spite or an effort to shut out the activists.
The other caveat is that we will have some real bastards chairing key committees. Don't expect a lot of progress on climate change or LGBT rights. Look for attempts to repeal parts of the health care bill. Darryl Issa, who will likely chair the House Oversight Committee, has said that he won't try to impeach Obama but I wouldn't put it past someone like Michele Bachmann to call for impeachment if the president's assistant secretary for flushing the toilet gets a parking ticket in February.
That's not an excuse to stop fighting. It's just a reminder that we are in a holding pattern for at least two years. If anything, that's a chance to refine our messaging as outsiders.
Finally, you can organize in your community and online. One person yelling into the darkness is lonely, but organizers scare the hell out of lawmakers. If the public applies enough pressure, the lawmakers will be forced to ignore their lobbyist buddies in favor of their constituents. The anti-choice people have been doing this since Roe v. Wade. That faction is often derided as single issue voters, but they have almost totally purged the Republican Party of pro-choicers.
(insert sarcastic golf clap)
Thanks to the Citizens United ruling, the big companies can move from lobbying to naked campaigning. Thanks, Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito. The problem is that a significant number of people will believe even the most blatant of lies if it is repeated often enough and loudly enough. If this was a developing country, the combination of ridiculous amounts of special interest money and a turnout hovering around 40 percent might lead international election observers to conclude that the midterms were not free and fair elections.
That said, all of the money in the world makes no difference if the people will not vote for the Congressman who is bought and paid for. You have the power to ignore the nonsense ads carefully crafted by some shadowy group with a nice sounding name like "Families for Puppies" that actually wants to save money on food processing by making hamburgers out of the hides of stray, rabid dogs. Organizations like the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation are good places to start learning about who is funding whom.
You have the power to tell your friends and neighbors that they are hearing lies and half-truths from special interests.
You have the power to form local groups of party activists. You don't need OFA's permission (though their support would be helpful). Network with groups in other communities and do your own county-level or district-level organizing. Here's a hint: campaign professionals have a very good idea of how many votes they need to win. You can calculate the Democratic Performance Index for the district yourself. This .pdf file will show you how. If you can find X number of likely voters, the campaign will have to take you seriously. Those likely voters will also be available to make calls and canvass to get to 50% + 1. Maybe a group already exists. Go join and do your part to recruit new members who will at least vote in every election.
As an added benefit, that bloc can be a powerful voice as the cycle turns from campaigning to lobbying. In all reality, it matters little who you send to DC or the state capital. It matters how he or she votes on the issues.
The real trick, of course, is keeping those newly organized people motivated. Strike a balance between regular networking without burning people out. Stay in regular contact with your network, but don't overwhelm them.
The biggest recent failing of the DNC was abandoning the 50 state strategy. We could have had strong local organizations and made some serious gains in state and local races in places like Kansas, Utah and Idaho. The powers that be know that a certain percentage of the electorate will always oppose them. The trick is to steadily grow that opposition until you can win U.S. House and Senate elections and carry states for the Presidential race.
At the risk of making a false equivalency, what we really need is a counter weight to the Tea Party. How big is the Tea Party? A CBS poll says 19 percent support the movement. However, I found this poll (.pdf) showing 40 percent support in one Pennsylvania district.
I'm not saying we need to go out and act like loud-mouthed (and sometimes violent) assholes like they do. What I am saying is that every town from Maine to Hawai'i should have an effective Progressive organization that is constantly identifying potential new supporters who will turn out for the occasional rally, the town halls and especially the election. This is community organizing, just like our president did in his early days. It's a lot of work, but it really is worth it.
To wrap up this rant, campaign season feels like a sprint. We are all exhausted. We left everything on the road. We fought the good fight and lost. Politics is a marathon, but it serves the interests of a lot of people if the people see it as a desperate sprint every two years from Labor Day to Election Day. Now take the weekend off with your favorite beverage of choice. On Monday morning, get back into it...
...or don't. The beauty of Democracy is that the people get the government that they deserve.