A Machine with No Message or Heart: How the Democrats Blew It in 2014

It’s your President, stupid.

Democrats failed to stand by or tout the many successes of their sitting President, instead trying to distance themselves from him. Barack Obama is – and deserves to be – their standard bearer, their moral compass, the sign of all is that is good about their party. If they’re disenchanted with their leader then we have every right to be disenchanted with them.

Lesson? You can’t whine or scold your way to victory if you are an incumbent, and you can’t mobilize voters by talking about how good you are at mobilizing voters. People will listen to outsiders who complain about insiders, but when incumbents complain about the opposition (who don’t have to back up their claims with facts, it seems), voters don’t take them seriously.

Democrats cut and run on Barack Obama because that is what the pundits told them happens in mid-term elections, and now they don’t have any credibility with which to pave a positive road the White House in 2016. They could have talked about the good points in the economic recovery, the improved oversight of Wall Street, the benefits of Obamacare, the greatly reduced budget deficit, the ascending housing, job and stock markets and (just this morning, preliminary reports of 230K more private sector jobs in October) and then gone on to talk about how there is so much more work to be done in all of these areas. If they don’t know how to tout their own success and go forward with a vision, why should we vote for them?

Instead, Democrats not only bailed on a President they should have been supporting, they focused on all the wrong issues – things like reproductive rights, voter ID laws and gay marriage. Those are not local or economic enough to sway a voter that thinks Congress is stuck – they smack of telling people what is good for them because they are too dumb to figure it out for themselves. Voters are smart enough to know that their congressman or governor has no real control over those non-paycheck issues and women don’t want to be shamed into a feminist vote. When in doubt, vote for the one who promises to leave you alone and not to raise your taxes – the latter is a key promise people can keep track of very easily.

It was wrong to let Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and Bernie Sanders (an Independent, it should be noted) do all the heavy lifting, but at least they each had something to say that was worth hearing. All three of them delivered messages that were rich in facts but also exuded warmth and humor and a desire to connect with people – everyone else seemed to be talking to a demographic. Elizabeth Warren was able to be candid about missed opportunities during the present administration but she never lost sight of the passion and core ideals that have people talking about her as a presidential hopeful – but apparently most of the people who heard her speak liked her, but not enough to elect the people she was stumping for. (Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, didn’t do herself or her party any favors by joining the chorus and disparaging the administration that gave her the gravitas she needed to bolster own run for the White House.)

The good old days: Deval Patrick is elected Governor of Massachusetts, 2006
The good old days: Deval Patrick is elected Governor of Massachusetts, 2006

In Massachusetts, the most inspiring speech I heard all election season was outgoing Governor Deval Patrick’s eulogy for Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The Governor reminded us that the best public servants do their work not by belittling their opponents and getting out their base but by listening to individual people and making their daily lives better, one street at a time. He praised the famously mumbling Mayor by saying that “you always knew what he meant and, more importantly, that he meant what he said.” Governor Patrick and the late Mayor share what was so woefully lacking in this election: the ability to show us what is good about our world and demonstrate the ability to deliver on a promise to make it even better.

Why is that so hard?













Photo Essay: Election 2012

Obama Campaign Office, Main Street, Nashua, NH.

The New Hampshire Obama campaign staff hand-cut letters out of foam core that spelled out “NH 4 OBAMA” and convinced people to hold them up throughout the rally. It’s not as easy as it looks.

The President gave a rousing version of his stump speech on a spectacular October afternoon. He was probably saving his new material for the Al Smith Dinner in New York that night and his appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

We all want a moment that we think belongs just to us. My friend and I were the only spectators on this stretch of street as the motorcade passed. We like to think that he saw us.

Hurricane Sandy was comparatively kind to New England but no discussion of Election 2012 is complete without her.

Sunrise, Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

On the way to the polls, a juxtaposition of the 20th and 21st century economies.

These signs were everywhere; we had an 85% turnout.

There were numerous Brown signs posted in town, many of them ten times this size. See also: previous post.

Even though Brown won the local vote, Elizabeth Warren ran away with the election for Senate.

And amidst the election hoopla, signs of thing to come. Turkeys party and then get raffled off.

Civic pride on both sides of the street.

Remnants of a successful Halloween remain.

An unattended sign at a polling place caused a little controversy, but not enough for it to come down.

Although it was cold, it was sunny, making it easier to get out the vote.

As the sun went down, the sign holders were steadfast in the cold.

True believer.

Darkness settled over the Groton School, with football practice under the lights in the distance. It seemed fitting to end the day in this place where Presidents and statesmen first made their marks.

We rushed to buy the morning papers with the results, not realizing that they went to press before 11pm.

2012 was indeed the social media election – this was the only copy of this edition available.

The election produced another winner: Nate Silver, who had the numbers right all along. Goodbye, Gallup.

But old habits die hard, and it was good to sit down on the first snowy day of the season and read the news the old fashioned way, with soup and coffee.

Texting While Driving is Illegal In Massachusetts, Senator Brown. So What’s With the Signs?

Hasn’t anyone else noticed these signs? They’ve been bothering me for a while so over the past couple of days I took my camera with me as I went about my business to see if I could find Senator Scott Brown signs I could photograph without risking my life. It wasn’t easy. Of the dozens of signs I saw only one was near a pedestrian walkway (and I wasn’t able to photograph that because there was no convenient place to park near it). Which means that Senator Brown’s advice to “text Brown to 68398” explicitly directs you to text to his campaign while you are on the road and thus most likely driving. This is Massachusetts – almost everyone drives alone, and when was the last time you asked a passenger to text your local candidate with a pledge for support as you were driving down the road? Whose brilliant idea was this? The law is pretty clear:

5. Sending/Reading Text Messages
Civil Offense-No insurance surcharge (Operators cannot use any mobile telephone or handheld device capable of accessing the Internet to write, send, or read an electronic message including text messages, emails, and instant messages or to access the Internet while operating a vehicle. Law applies even if the vehicle is stopped in traffic.)

  • 1st offense-$100
  • 2nd offense-$250
  • 3rd or subs offense-$500

So even if you’re stopped at an intersection near a campaign sign and have this incredible urge to communicate your undying loyalty to Senator Brown, you are still breaking the law. And what happens if you do text him? Is it an automatic contribution if you do, like giving to relief efforts in Haiti? Permission to solicit contributions from you using your cell phone number? Maybe he wants to text you back (uh-oh) a pic of him in his barn jacket, or more appropriately in his pickup truck, or to assure he understands women’s issues because he is – gasp – married to one. (I’m married to a lovely man; still, I make no claims about understanding anything about men.)  I doubt he wants to send you his voting record.

Oh, but now I sound partisan. I was raised a Republican, but it meant something different then. Actually, after Brown won against Martha Coakley (which is an entirely different post) I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but then I watched him for a couple of years and last summer Elizabeth Warren stepped into the race, presenting us with the opportunity to break the glass ceiling in not-as-liberal-as-the-rest-of-America-thinks Massachusetts. A law professor who understands the banking system who also happens to be female – she’s certainly worth considering. I don’t want her to blindly vote the party line any more that I did Brown; I hope she understands that. And if she had put up signs like these I’d have taken her to task, too.

But really, anyone who plasters Massachusetts byways with signs that prompt people to break the law – on his behalf, no less – might not want to be the one making laws in Congress. Just a thought.

Oh, and – hmm –  WBUR is having an irksome pledge drive this week. What do you think would happen if NPR had a pledge drive that you could contribute to via text? I’m pretty sure someone would have Nina Totenberg up on charges in no time.

More Than Freedom

As we write this, a ship carrying 2,000 U.S. Marines is on it way to Haiti to assist vicitms of the earthquake.  America may be mired in conflicts that some deem questionable, but there is no mistaking that when disaster strikes, the world expects us to help, and we always do.  The freedom to do the right thing is worth preserving, even if it’s not always clear how.

Photo taken at the Fort Devens, Devens, Massachusetts.  Although most of the base has been converted to civilian use, it is still serves the Army and Marine Corps reserves.

Bringing Democracy

I heard on the radio this morning about the Afghan peoples’ disappointment that the United States failed to deliver on its promise to bring democracy to Afghanistan and I wonder whether any outside entity has ever successfully brought democracy to any nation.  I may be out of my depth here; I am not a history scholar, but any lasting efforts to fundamentally change the political structure of a nation appear to have carried through by the people themselves.  Americans have always kept the flame alive, overtly and covertly, but Solidarity had deep Polish roots, the Germans dismantled the Berlin Wall , Gorbachev oversaw the breakup of the USSR.  Can democracy be exported?  It can be funded, encouraged, and nurtured, but I think the idea of exporting a successful turnkey government (even if it appears to be handcrafted a la Karzai) is preposterous and I thought that this failed conceit was the big lesson of Viet Nam.  I do think that the undermining the Taliban and rooting out Al Qaeda are noble causes that can save lives and personal freedoms, but I cannot comprehend how we can reverse centuries of skepticism about Western motives in Middle Eastern nations; President Obama may have a better shot at it than most, but I still think the parameters of the mission and the methods should be redrawn, and fast.

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