Friday, November 05, 2010

Even in defeat, Alan Grayson is right

House Democrats were swept out of power because party leaders tried to hard to "appease" Republicans on major issues, said a high-profile member Thursday who lost his seat.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) said Democratic leaders should have been more aggressive and shut Republicans out of the negotiating process, arguing it would have helped them in Tuesday's midterm elections.

"I think that the Democrats are saddened and demoralized by this policy of appeasement," he said on MSNBC, noting that Democrats suffered from low turnout.

Even though Grayson — a liberal firebrand — was defeated Tuesday, he continues to have good standing on the left. He countered the Republican narrative of their midterm victories, that voters repudiated President Obama and his policies by booting Democrats from power in the House.

Of course, there were many other factors in play, such as low turnout among younger voters, Blue Dogs losing largely Republican districts that Dems picked up in the '06 and '08 waves, widespread anti-incumbent sentiment, the lack of a coherent message from Democrats, a seemingly unenthusiastic Obama, and, of course, the still-terrible economy, but Grayson is certainly right to point to this "appeasement."

Democrats should have pursued a more progressive agenda and, instead of cowering before Republican charges of socialism, actually defended what they were doing. Instead, they were consistently on the defensive, running scared as the Republicans launched their fearmongering propaganda at the American people. And, of course, Obama himself could have more progressive instead of consistently attacking his progressive base -- even on Jon Stewart last week he was largely dismissive of progressive concerns. As for what could have been done, it wouldn't have taken much. Obama could have acted to repeal DADT by executive order and Democrats in Congress could have forced a vote on the expiring Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. A little more courage and a little more confidence would have gone a long way.

Don't get me wrong, a great deal was accomplished during Obama's first two years in office, including health-care reform (even without a public option), but it was never clear that Democrats were actually proud of what they were doing. And they never really made a forceful case to the American people that what they did was actually worthwhile, and in the best interests of the country. This allowed Republicans to control the dominant narratives with their lies and distortions.

And what happened? Voters chose the party that they like even less than the one in power, a party of crazy right-wing extremism and an agenda of total obstructionism at a time when the American people need their elected leaders to act aggressively to get the country back on track. That's the embarrassment here. It's bad enough that Republicans won -- flipping the House, narrowing the Dems' Senate majority, and doing well at the state level across the country. What makes it worse is that the Democrats' lost to such an appalling party that should have been beatable (just as Angle and O'Donnell, two of the craziest of the crazies, were beatable).

Anyway, "appeasement" is a strong word, but it applies, at least in some cases. I understand Obama's desire to reach across the aisle so as to be able to say he tried to seek bipartisan solutions and was rebuffed, but he and the Democrats never really got away from seeking cooperation and compromise with an opposition party that had zero interest in bipartisanship. The message was pretty clear early on, and yet the reaching out never seemed to stop. Of course, with the filibuster rule in the Senate, Democrats could do little without 60 votes, and it was hard enough just keeping their own ranks together. And so, in a way, Grayson's assessment is far too black-and-white. But one really must wonder how things would have turned out had the Democrats only been more aggressive in pursuing their agenda and in defending their record before the American people. 

But what's done is done, and it's just too bad Grayson won't be in the House to speak with such force against what is sure to be an overreaching, ideologically extreme, and deeply partisan GOP majority.

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