Only a few years ago, Democrats were almost relegated to permanent minority status by a Mission Accomplished sign and a flight suit. But since President Bush's 2004 reelection, they gained at least 50 House seats, 12 Senate seats, seven state legislatures and seven governorships. As Republicans used "socialism" attacks to make the election a referendum on conservatism, Democrats also registered their biggest presidential triumph since 1964.
What the party gains in strength, it loses in a Republican scapegoat that previously justified inaction. On huge issues -- whether re-regulating Wall Street, reforming trade, solving the healthcare emergency, or ending the Iraq war -- America envisages enormous progress in the months ahead, and Democrats will have no one to blame for failure but themselves. After all, with more than 360 electoral votes, President Obama cannot credibly claim he lacks the political capital to legislatively steamroll a humiliated GOP and its remaining senators.
To meet the challenge, Democrats have to abandon their worst habits.
They must, for instance, acknowledge their progressive mandate, rather than denying it as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did on Tuesday. "This is not a mandate for a political party or an ideology," he fearfully told reporters.
They should also retire the Innocent Bystander fable about being powerless onlookers. Democrats first cited this myth as reason the Iraq war continued during their congressional majority -- expecting the country to forget that Congress can halt war funding.
Democrats need to discard other lies, too -- especially those about Bill Clinton. To hear the pundits tell it, Clinton's first-term pitfalls underscore why the next administration should avoid "governing in a way that is, or seems, skewed to the left," as the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus most recently asserted. History, of course, proves the opposite. Recounting Clinton's early years to Politico, a lobbyist correctly noted that the new president didn't move left -- he pushed conservative policies like NAFTA, thereby demoralizing his base and helping Republicans take Congress.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
In Salon, David Sirota exhorts President-elect Obama to think big and take advantage of a mandate to govern more progressively.