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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?

The last photo I took before I whacked my head on the ice
The last photo I took before I whacked my head on the ice

Four years ago today I went out to play with the kids and take photos in the snow. Two minutes into it I slipped on smooth ice under the snow and landed on my head and watched the Presidential Inauguration through the fog of a mild concussion (Hillary Clinton, I feel your pain). Sometimes it still hurts on that spot at the back of my head, and it hurts, too, to know that not everything has gone as well as we had hoped over the last four years. We feel more divided and less safe and we are still at war, but we seem to be making progress in a lot of important areas even as we fall behind in others.

It's not as easy to believe as it once was, but I still do
It’s not as easy to believe as it once was, but I still do

In 2009, we were elated at the historical significance of Barack Obama’s election and also in survival mode from the Great Recession. Then, we were looking at some huge milestones for our kids and wondering how we would survive those. Now, we are satisfied from having accomplished so much, proud of our children, but weary and a little worried about the world we are handing to them. It is a new kind of uncertainty, informed by the realization that talking about peace and compromise are so much easier than accomplishing them – and we really thought we knew that. Sometimes it’s like the 1970s all over again, just with better clothes and more cynicism (which I didn’t think was possible).

I still have high hopes for our President, still feel the same thrill at seeing the monuments and marble corridors in Washington that we have visited a few times in recent years, still look ahead optimistically to the next milestones for our family. And I still walk very gingerly in the snow.

Mr. President, on the inside, looking out
Mr. President, on the inside, looking out – God Speed, sir

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.

Hubba Bubba: Bill Clinton Redeems Himself

Regardless of what anyone thinks about this election cycle, there is no arguing that Bill Clinton gave a master class in politics at the Democratic National Convention last night. He has never given a better speech at a more important moment. It should be required viewing (along with the written version so his brilliant improvisation comes through) for anyone interested in any kind of political career. The Republican strategists on MSNBC openly envied him, saying that their party did not offer anyone close to Clinton’s performance in terms of political mastery. I haven’t had that much fun watching a speech since Reagan.

I used to cringe when I heard Clinton speak as President, and when I stood at a rope line near him in January 2008 in Nashua, New Hampshire, he was charismatic but in a creepy and pandering kind of way. He was clearly worried, angry and exhausted after witnessing Hillary’s defeat to Barack Obama in the Iowa Caucuses the night before. His angsty presence was so distracting while Hillary spoke that he and Chelsea eventually moved behind the campaign bus halfway through her rally. Later, when he emerged to work the crowd, along that rope line he scanned the crowd for the (few) people of color and, reaching beyond me more than once, pulled them toward him to take pictures, as if he needed to prove he hadn’t lost his influence with them.

After being such a skunk during the 2008 primaries, he owed this performance to Obama, and delivered spectacularly. The President has a tough act to follow.

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