Less than sixteen months stand between us and the 2014 elections – let’s say 460 days, give or take. And what is the Left doing to prepare?
Mostly, we are playing defense.
The Right has been dishing out fake scandals in rapid-fire fashion, hoping one of them would do some lasting damage, and the outrage generated over the NSA case seems to have done just that. Democrats, on the other hand, have been stuck in a defensive crouch for several months. The Left has been reacting, rather than taking action.
How is it that we got caught flat-footed in this fight?
First, liberals and progressives let down their guard after last November’s elections. Exhausted from the endless campaign season, Americans on both sides of the aisle took a well-deserved break from all things politic.
During the winter break, Republicans nursed their wounds, and concocted new schemes to derail the Obama administration’s efforts. But liberals rested too long, allowing themselves to be distracted from their real goals. Instead of getting back in the game, we took an extended vacation, giving the Right an opening. They promptly filled that vacuum with unsubstantiated charges of wrongdoing.
And now, six months into the 2014 election cycle, we have no agenda – nothing comprehensive, at least. There was talk of climate legislation, gun regulation, and immigration reform from the administration in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, but those issues galvanized the Right. Gun regulations failed to pass. Immigration reform does not look promising. And climate legislation remains on the distant horizon.
President Obama deserves a good deal of blame here, for being, confoundingly, too ambitious and not ambitious enough. In one regard, the president elected to pursue issues that would face insurmountable resistance, while on the other hand, he did not attempt to achieve anything novel. Obama’s agenda tread in familiar territory for both parties – and the Republicans began the battle with a formidable advantage.
But rank and file Democrats deserve just as much blame, if not more. The Democratic Party cannot function if there is really only one person out there making policy proposals. There is no overarching liberal agenda anymore, and no one on the Left is championing any new ideas – the life blood of our governmental institutions.
Progressive and Liberal voters, for the most part, all seem to have their pet issues but no conception of a larger mission; we have become specialized advocates, disconnected from a greater whole. If we really intend to make gains in the next cycle, it is time for the rank and file to stand up, to shrug off the defensive posture, and start opening up new fronts in the legislative battle.
Rather than proposing piece-meal measures that only address the crisis of the day, Democrats must begin to think forward by finding new solutions for unaddressed problems. For example, the drug war is an abysmal failure, causing infinitely more harm than good. Minorities are targeted at eight times the rates as whites for marijuana possession, for example – blatantly racist policy. But the Left is fearful of the repercussions should they stand firm on principle. At most, some advocate reforms in marijuana law. The problem, however, is systemic, and adequate solutions must deal with the drug war as a whole. Should we frame the war on drugs as an extension of the police state, a broader problem, then we stand a chance of breaking new ground politically.
Other broad goals are waiting for their champions to step up. Our prison systems have become over-crowded torture chambers, giving no thought to actual rehabilitation. Juvenile corrections are no better, and recent studies have revealed that sexual assaults are prevalent in both adult and juvenile facilities. Our public schools are floundering. Our infrastructure has fallen into shameful disrepair. Our social safety net is being dismantled. The list is quite literally endless.
Notice that a pattern exist across all these problems – Liberals are playing defense instead of proposing solutions, and when they DO have an answer, it is never a new one.
We have grown reactionary and complacent. Instead of firming up government services, we have been fending off conservative attempts to dismantle them. Instead of proposing reform for our prison systems, or ending the war on drugs, we ignore the consequences for fear of “looking weak on crime.” Rather than developing new educational policies for the 21st century, we are simply rallying around our teachers – a noble act, certainly, but inadequate. And the list goes on.
We have six months until the 2014 campaign season begins in earnest. If Democrats do not use that time to collaborate and develop an actual agenda, we will never win back the house. We might even lose the Senate if we don’t get proactive, and fast.
Republicans have two advantages in 2014: the youth vote and minorities don’t turn out for midterm elections, and both groups tend to vote for Democratic candidates. In order to overcome those advantages, we need to do more than outreach. Liberals and progressives need a comprehensive, new agenda.
In truth, Democrats have been playing defense since LBJ’s failures in Vietnam. Johnson was the last champion of Roosevelt’s New Deal. If we don’t devise a new New Deal, and quick, we will have earned the public’s disdain and furthered their disillusion.
Americans are waiting for a leader. Actually we’re waiting for several of them, people with new ideas and the enthusiasm and forethought to enact them. We’re waiting for an agenda to rally around. Instead of waiting, though we need to step up and become leaders ourselves, proposing new solutions for what ails the nation.
If we don’t start playing offense, we will be forced to react every time. It’s time to change the conversation, to change strategies, and to work together to address the problems of a new century. We are long overdue.
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