Don’t Act Don’t Sell

Saying “I told you so” is never a gratifying experience, even when the warning was prescient. “There is no cure for this strain of American Ugly,” I wrote two days before the 2008 General Election. “If Barack Obama is elected on Tuesday, the virus will mutate, and it will only get uglier.” I also wrote at that time, with slightly less zeal, that Democrats would squander the mandate for change voters ultimately gave them.

It’s now two days before the 2010 General Election, and even the most fervent Democratic apologists agree that is exactly what has happened, and ugly is poised to punish them for their impotence come Nov. 2. Talk about bait and switch. Despite the Democrats’ 2008 talk, the only change their fleeting rise to power has wrought has been driven by Sarah Palin and the radical, religious and racist right. Indeed, the Palinistas have proven to be the only political force in America that understands how to effect change.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Palin and the Tea Party faithful are small-minded people. Many, if not most, are fools being manipulated by the Carl Roves, Dick Armeys and Koch brothers of the world. They’re Reagan Democrats, middle-class workers who shifted their allegiances to a man, a philosophy and a political party that, over the past three decades, has decimated their way of life. They’re sheep who have been led willingly to slaughter.

And what they stand for is dangerous. Examine the roots, and you’ll find genocide and slavery in the tips and the caps.

But the radical right does understand two sacred principles of change.

First, it is driven by passion and commitment, not the smug satisfaction that comes with being the self-perceived good guys. As any real Democrat knows, the glory days for 20th century liberals were fashioned out of the bruises and blood of the labor, civil rights, peace and women’s movements. Under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party dismissed those lessons and began its steady descent into helplessness and irrelevancy.

Second, the change Americans wanted Barack Obama to initiate involved challenging the legalized corruption that infects our culture, not playing footsy with it. For example, confronting the insurance companies that drain our wallets and stain our moral souls is the kind of change citizens put their 2008 beliefs in, not further enriching and empowering them with “reform.”
When Stephen Colbert asked Tea Party strategist Brendan Steinhauser on Oct. 12 who must be politically purged, his response was on point: “Those that are in power, Republicans and Democrats, who have basically become power-hungry elites,” he said.

Tea Party candidates ousted several establishment Republicans in this year’s primary elections, Steinhauser said. “On Nov. 2, we’re going to go and beat the Democrats.”

* * *

The list of reasons why the Democrats must purge their own ranks before the radical right does it for them is long and sadly predictable, starting with the way they treat their base: labor, social justice, peace, environmental and women activists, as well as disenfranchised minorities.

If there has been any political lesson 30 years of Republican ascension should have taught the Democrats it’s that the base is vital to success in a political duopoly. Yet the party of Roosevelt and Truman not only ignores its core constituencies, except when their votes are needed, it openly holds them in contempt, a la the rhetoric of Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Another entry on the purge list is the Democrats’ failure to understand that the public and the times demand leadership, not capitulation. Civically abandoned by the news media, the majority of the American electorate is clueless about the issues; forget about the answers. Rove and George W. Bush didn’t position themselves to steal two elections with their stance on the issues. They nurtured their base and projected strength and principle for everyone else.

How many times did Obama think he could reach out to his enemies and get smacked upside his head before the public would realize he’s not the leader the world needs?

If he thinks Americans respect retreat in the heat of battle, he’s wrong and doesn’t deserve to be in power. If he doesn’t understand this is a life-and-death battle for the radically religious racists who confront him, he’s learned little from American history, ironically, and can’t prevent its ugly repetition.

* * *

Evidence that Barack Obama and the Democratic Party failed to understand they were elected to act started accumulating before the new administration assumed the mantle, when the president announced he was hiring Wall Street to oversee Wall Street, after what Wall Street did.

The surrender has continued unabated to this day, as evidenced by administration policy on don’t-ask-don’t-tell (DADT), the Clinton-era rule that bans gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. There are few injustices the president has promised to remedy more loudly and more often than DADT. And yet, when a federal judge declared the policy unconstitutional, his administration appealed the ruling.

The defense proffered for the appeal is that it’s established precedent. As the New York Times reported on Sept. 24, 2010, presidential spokesman Gibbs “made clear that the administration will continue to defend the policy in court, as it does with most challenges to the government’s executive powers.”

Barack Obama’s position is that it’s Congress’s responsibility to end DADT, not his. Somehow, he and the Democratic Party interpreted the voters’ 2008 message as, “Don’t act.” Now they’re finding their repeated failures to act don’t sell.

You can’t say they weren’t warned.

STEVEN HIGGS is editor of The Bloomington Alternative, where this commentary originally appeared. He can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative

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Steven Higgs is an environmental journalist and photographer living in Bloomington, Ind. He owns and operates Natural Bloomington: Ecotours and More. His new book A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana is scheduled for release by Indiana University Press on April 20, 2016.

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