Could 2010 Be a Good Year for Democrats After All?

barack obamaAfter months of watching Teabagger protests and a weak and ineffectual Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, it was clear that Democrats were going to get creamed in November. But with Congress having finally passed health care reform, pundits are saying President Obama has gotten his “second wind” – and the conventional wisdom is being revisited. Could it be the 2010 midterms will be a good election for Democrats, and Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts was just their low point? And was the media simply too eager to declare victory for Republicans, a premature pronouncement that will make them eat crow in November? Granted, there’s a lot Democrats have done – and can do now – to be in a better or worse position when voters have their say in seven months. But in a rush to report a “rise-and-fall” story, the media ignored the demographic shifts which indicate we are now in a new progressive era – ending what had been a 40-year nightmare.

Back in August, I attended Netroots Nation – the annual conference of liberal bloggers – and was taken aback at how defeatist this normally resilient bunch were at the Democrats’ chances in 2010. Even polling wunderkid Nate Silver had dire predictions for the midterms, but it seemed to me that bloggers were listening too much to Charlie Cook – as conventional of a Beltway pundit as you can get. “You guys have had a great run,” said Cook – referring to the 2006 and 2008 elections, but now progressives should brace themselves for defeat.

Cook didn’t really give us much of a reason why we should expect a Republican ascent 16 months later – except for some folksy football analogies about a shift in momentum. But it set the tone for the whole conference, and we all went home with a sense of defeat.

Granted, the next six months suggested that Cook was onto something. The Republican base was energized, Democrats were on the defensive while their base was depressed – and Obama was quickly losing support from independents. Health care reform – which the President had given Congress an August deadline to pass – was stalled. Organizing for America, designed to transform Obama’s campaign team into a formidable lobbying power, refused to go after the obstructionists with real power – Blue Dog Democrats.

With nothing to vote for, Democrats stayed at home in November – losing both Virginia and New Jersey, states that had been getting progressively bluer. Obama then took a dangerous turn to the Right, and by December the public option had been killed – just to stroke Joe Lieberman’s ego. In January, the unheard of happened – they lost Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts.

But despite all the doom and gloom that progressives were in – at one point, I even urged Howard Dean to “save the Democrats from themselves” – the media ignored the obvious. 2008 gave Democrats a mandate to govern with or without Republicans, they still had that majority largely intact, and using that power could help turn things around. Thanks to Nancy Pelosi, they passed health care reform – and we are seeing a sudden and sharp reversal of fortunes.

At Netroots Nation, while others were predicting trouble in 2010, Bill Clinton advised us not to worry about poll numbers now. “The minute the President signs a health care reform bill,” he said, “approval will go up because Americans are inherently optimistic.”

Granted, the final health care bill did not have a public option – but the resilient move that activists took to keep it alive suggests that it’s not away. Progressives must work with liberal Senators like Tom Harkin and Jay Rockefeller, who insisted this health care bill was only the first step. Killing the bill would have fallen into right-wing hands, and opened the floodgates for another 1994. Passing it gave us breathing room to keep fighting for a public option in the near future.

President Clinton said other things that night worth repeating. After a 40-year struggle, where the Republicans had exploited fear and resentment to win from Governor Reagan to President Bush, we are on the verge of a new progressive era. 2008, he said, was “the first election in my lifetime where the country was self-consciously communitarian.”

Demographics have played a role. Latinos are an increasing share of the electorate, and the Republican Party’s racist immigrant bashing is turning them away in droves. Young people are heavily Democratic – creating a whole generation that will go on to dominate politics for decades, in much the same way those who came of age during the New Deal became lifelong FDR Democrats into the 50s, 70s and 90s. While youth turnout dipped precipitously in 2009, it’s not like these voters have turned to the Tea Party movement.

The Right has been hoping for months that 2010 will be another 1994, but it’s easy to see how that analogy falls apart. Democrats lost Congress that year – because they had to defend more open seats, especially in the South which had been trending Republican for decades. For 2010, we have more Republicans than Democrats are leaving Congress – and there are so few Southern Democrats left the GOP has less “low-hanging fruit.” A recent article in National Journal summed up the current situation very nicely.

In 1992, Bill Clinton won the White House with 43% – leaving the Democrats vulnerable to losing seats in 1994, because a majority of the country had not voted for him. Obama won a clear majority in 2008, and most Democrats in Congress represent districts where he remains popular. While it’s certainly true that some Democrats will lose in 2010, they are mostly Blue Dogs from districts that John McCain won. But Republicans from places Obama won – eight in California alone – should also be vulnerable, which could cancel out any losses.

Some Republican elders are starting to get nervous – that 2010 may not be as good of a year for them as many had hoped, and now their party has been taken over by the Sarah Palin wing. While the health care bill was unpopular before it passed, polls now show repealing it would be even worse. In 1936, a year after FDR passed the Social Security Act, his GOP rival Alf Landon campaigned on the platform to “repeal” Social Security. Landon got creamed – losing every state in the union except for Maine and Vermont.

After a year that saw “hope” and “change” fall prey to despair and backroom deals, progressives must realize that they still have the upper hand going into the midterms. As long as we learned from the lessons of health care that bipartisanship is a fool’s errand – and Congress moves on to pushing financial reform, climate change and immigration reform – 2010 does not have to be the terrible year that progressives have dreaded.

We are on the verge of a new progressive era. We should go into 2010 acting like it.

Paul Hogarth

Republished with permission from BeyondChron.


  1. says

    I quite agree with Wiam. Even apart from awakened-voter reactions, if we are on the verge of a progressive era it will be despite rather than because of Obama. Barring a drastic change on his part (which due precaution gives us very little time to wait for), both actual progressivism and a near-term future for Democrats will depend on his rapid exit. Well before 2012 we will need to see our era’s equivalent of Eugene McCarthy.

    I have voted Dem in 11 presidential elections out of the past 13, and enthusiastically supported candidate Obama in the primaries and general election. However, his administration has turned out to be a zero or a disaster for reviving the federal courts, for the environment and wildlife, for action for clean energy and versus climate change, and especially for human rights and our security abroad.

    Most progressives want to focus on our affirmative domestic agenda and try not to be diverted by foreign (and military) policy, but that’s where Obama’s administration has been most disgusting and dangerous. Genocides and dictators are calmly tolerated, while long-term democratic allies are treated with a coldness that goes dangerously beyond mere communication of legitimate disagreements. Going even beyond George Bush’ deliberate self-deceptions, the appeasement of (or ineffective pretend opposition to) repressive nuclear-holocaust bound Iran – which our military has found to be sending in weapons and supporting squads who are killing our troops and allies in Iraq and Afghanistan – is unacceptable and dangerous, if not indeed obviously treasonous. More and more it will be seen as calling for impeachment.

  2. Wiam says

    I’d like to share your optimism, but I think it’ll be very easy for the opposition to release information right before the midterm elections about Obama’s role in killing the public option. If the secret deals he made with big Pharma and hospitals are fully verified, Democrats will sit out the vote next fall in disgust. We’ll be paying for the healthcare bill for four years before we see any returns, while the funds for health care for people the insurance companies rejected just sticks the public with the bill that insurance should have been forced to pay. The insurance companies laugh all the way to the bank, and those people who would have been in the news for obscene insurance industry ripoffs will be quietly paid for by the public. Obama cleverly eliminated a big piece of the public outcry against the for-profit business model of insurance companies.

    I wish Obama was as progressive as some still think he is, but he basically just forced through the Reagan-era wealth redistribution scheme that takes money from working and middle class Americans and gives it to both the poor and the rich. Nice gesture to the poor, but the next wave of republicans in Congress will simply lesson the benefits to the poor while maintaining the high levels of theft from the middle class to the rich. Meanwhile, the “socialist ObamaCare” will be the rallying cry of the right, in spite of the fact that we got nothing of the sort.

    We on the left should have simply demanded true health care reform in the form of expanded Medicare & Medicaid. Eliminating the insurance companies would have saved billions. Instead, Obama made secret deals up front, then tricked the left into thinking we were going to get true reform while he single-mindedly pushed through the biggest bailout in the history of our country: Force Americans to buy a faulty product, then tax them to pay for stuff the insurance companies don’t want to pay for.

    The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Democrats who weren’t tracking what Obama & his big money interests were doing might just get clued in before the election. If the voters do figure out our own party screwed us, the Democrats are toast.

  3. WomanforPeaceSanity says

    As an ardent Progressive, donating only to truly Progressive candidates this year instead of the DNC, this is one of the most hopeful assessments I have read in a very long time. Progressive Democrats and our great organizations like PDA and the Progressive Caucus within the Dem Party are working hard to make this happen!!!!


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