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?













We Thought We Could

Election Night 2006 confetti

Election night 2006.  That’s Deval Patrick on the jumbo screen at right, emerging triumphant in his victory as the first person of color to be elected governor of Massachusetts.  The campaign slogan was Together We Can.  The headline in today’s Boston Globe was that he will cut 1,000 state jobs to avoid a budget deficit of $600 million.  He didn’t create the recession, but there is still something terribly disheartening about this news.  Families of people with disabilties will lose the people who support them, more teachers will lose their jobs, more schools will be overcrowded, and politicians – the Governor included – may use this as an excuse to build casinos in Massachusetts.  He is sinking in a quagmire not of his own making, and signs point that he is looking to all the wrong people to pull him out.  I don’t blame him for not getting along with his own legislature – even though his party holds the majority – but, just as with Obama, I wonder if he has been able to surround himself with people who are truly like-minded.

That election night was an interesting moment in time.  Ted Kennedy spoke (boring boilerplate), as did John Kerry (deadly boring boilerplate – leftover from 2004 Presidential campaign) and Martha Coakley (most boring of all attorney general-speak that she still uses in her current campaign to fill Kennedy’s Senate seat).  Patrick was the beaming exception.  Like Obama – he literally lit up the room.

Still, my favorite moment from that night did not take place on the floor, but in the empty corridor outside as my daughter and I were going out to find something to eat before the speeches began.  It was one of those enormous convention center hallways that could accomodate a truck if it was required, and walking toward us was a man in a red pullover sweater.  He looked familiar and I squinted to get a better look.  He smiled at me and, not breaking his easy stride, smiled and said “Hi there, how are you?”

“Fine, thanks.”  I nodded and returned the smile as we passed each other. 

 My daughter looked at me, and said “Who was that?  It seemed like he knew you.”

“That, my dear, was Mike Dukakis.   And he was once the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.  I’ve never met him before, but that’s what good politicians do – they make everybody feel like them know them.”

“That guy in the red sweater walking all by himself?”

That guy in the red sweater walking all by himself.

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