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“Enthusiasm Gap My Ass!”

Dick Price: Certainly, a recent tour through packed political venues around Los Angeles will tell you that there’s no lack of enthusiasm among Democrats, at least in this part of the world.
kamala harris

Kamala Harris (Photo: Edward Headington)

So said Brad Sherman, the rather mild-mannered seven-term San Fernando Valley congressman, in addressing a cheering “Rally in the Valley” crowd in Van Nuys this past Sunday, followed by a sheepish glance at his mother seated against the wall as he uttered his one bad word for the day.

You’d like to think he’s right -- bad word, sheepish glance, and all.

Certainly, a recent tour through packed political venues around Los Angeles will tell you that there’s no lack of enthusiasm among Democrats, at least in this part of the world.

Don't believe me? Spend hours in line to join a crowd 37,000 strong listen to President Obama deliver another of his spell-binding speeches at the University of Southern California the other day.

Gavin Newsom and Eric Baumann

Gavin Newsom and Eric Baumann

Look for an empty chair in packed meeting halls in South LA, Highland Park, and Van Nuys over the past several weeks.

Make way for Eric Bauman, the LA Democratic Party Chair, as he bounds to the stage in Van Nuys to announce that the LA Times that morning gave Jerry Brown a double-digit lead in the race for governor and put Senator Barbara Boxer well ahead in her race as well.

Stand back as he pumps his fist in the air.

There’s no gap in Eric’s enthusiasm. There never is.

And that’s a part of the problem, because this is the choir, these are the converted, those are the people who will be out phone banking and leafleting and marching and cheering for Democrats in election after election, come rain, come shine. Because they like the excitement and camaraderie of a campaign. Because they like rubbing elbows with rock star politicians. Because it beats golf and bingo. Because they have some deep-seated need to make the world a better place.

But what that says about the rest of the country and the election in general is another question.

As Bauman exclaimed, it’s looking better here for Democrats in California than it did several weeks ago – though stellar but lesser-known candidates like Kamala Harris and Debra Bowen are in more precarious positions. But clearly elsewhere people who know how to manipulate ignorance and channel anger have a hook in the nose of a whole bunch of fearful, irate, and perhaps not terribly bright people who are about to make very bad choices for themselves and our country come election day.

What Have Democrats Learned?
Less than a week out from election day, there’s no point rehearsing the mistakes the Obama Administration and Democrats controlling Congress have made since roaring into office – lots of offices – two years ago.

“We are sometimes too cerebral, too gracious, too quiet,” says our own congressman, Xavier Becerra, speaking to a crowd of the faithful in the back room of a Mexican restaurant in Highland Park, just north of Downtown LA, last week. “We do it to ourselves.”

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A gracious man himself, and cerebral, the most this high-ranking Democrat – Nancy Pelosi’s right-hand man in running the House – will say of his Blue Dog brethren is that, “Sometimes other Democrats don’t stand up as tall as they should.”

Debra Bowen

Debra Bowen

True enough, but you hope this 18-year veteran of Congress is saying it more forcefully in private.

As with others in the party’s leadership – Tim Kane this weekend on Christianne Amanpour’s This Week – Becerra suggests that Democrats have not done a good job taking credit for their accomplishments:

  • 870,000 private-sector jobs in 2010—more than during the eight years under George Bush Jr.
  • Lower taxes than we’ve had in 60 years.
  • Healthcare reform that keeps kids on their parents’ plans until they’re 26.
  • A government-run student loan program that save $65 billion in bank fees.

Becerra has to concede that the Republicans with a 41-vote minority in the Senate managed to thwart promised reform on energy policy and immigration, among others. But then you think, if a dope like Bush and a devil like Cheney could march us into two misbegotten wars without an overwhelming mandate, couldn’t Obama and the Democrats have done much more with their tremendous psychic advantage and an electoral mandate they may lose next Tuesday?

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Photo Al Strange)

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Photo Al Strange)

You can only hope Democratic Party leaders have learned that playing endless pattycake with people who live to destroy you is a dumb way to go. Clinton proved it and so has Obama. As Robert Reich says, pray God the Obama Administration doesn’t think it should move toward the center after the expected Election Day losses.

But then when Becerra concludes by telling a bit of his own story, as the son of Mexican immigrants, growing up in a 400-square-foot house, being the first in his family to go to college, and believing that the current often-vilified immigrants—“undocumented, illegal, whatever you want to call them”—will “uplift America and make it a better place with their energy and drive, just as other waves of immigrants have done,” you know that this kind and dapper man isn’t out here on a damp night in a poor part of town just because it beats golf and bingo.

Why We Should Care
A moment like that stops you.

Just as does House Democratic Whip James Clyburn speaking at the First African American Methodist Episcopal Church in South Los Angeles to the city’s black leadership two weeks ago, recounting the difficult struggle to enact the Civil Rights Act and its parallels to current health care reform efforts. At the event organized by Anthony Samad of the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum, Clyburn spoke to a packed house. To those in the room who were disappointed with the compromises made by the president, Clyburn reminded them that Rome wasn't built in a day.

Speaking of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Clyburn said people often look back on it as if, in one fell swoop, it made discrimination illegal. Said Clyburn, "most people forget that state and local governments and their employees were excluded from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- that was the only way to get it passed. It wasn't until the 1972 amendments to Title VII that the City of Los Angeles and all other governmental agencies across the country could no longer discriminate on the basis of race." Clyburn acknowledged that there is much more to be done in the area of health care reform but emphasized that that doesn't diminish the monumental accomplishment of the Obama administration, which was able to accomplish what other administrations have been trying since Theodore Roosevelt was president -- Teddy Roosevelt, for chrissakes!

Moments like that stop you, too. Just as does the cavalcade of candidates in Van Nuys last Sunday—Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, Barbara Boxer, Debra Bowen, Kamala Harris, John Chiang, and on and on—telling you why they want to represent you.

dick price

Still don’t believe me? Listen to Kamala Harris’s speech at the “Rally in the Valley,” then ask yourself whether you’d rather have her representing you, now as attorney general, then in other offices down the road, or whether you think any Republican you can name—Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, John McCain, Christine O’Donnell, take your pick—would ever really have your back.

Dick Price