In the face of a plummeting economy and escalating foreclosure crisis, Democrats compromised their principles with corporate interests and failed to persuade voters that the government was working on behalf of the middle class, progressive activists are concluding in the wake of Tuesday's electoral wipe out.
The anger over the economy, directed at the party in power, overwhelmed even Democrats who fought for progressive values. There had been hope that House members such as Tom Perriello (D-Va.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) would be able to hang on despite the sagging economy and voter rage and in the face of mountains of corporate spending. But all four went down with the ship.
Perriello is a thoughtful, charming, hard-working freshman whose progressive values are deeply held. He worked as hard as anyone in Congress, passionately articulated and defended his controversial votes, raised a ton of money and held endless townhalls while running a flawless campaign in his rural House district. Yet he lost to an country-club Republican who refused to take positions. He was swamped with corporate money. Shea-Porter, Kilroy and Grayson met similar fates, undermining the idea that running as a passionate and principled progressive-populist is enough to carry a candidate to victory. If voters are losing their jobs and their homes, it's simply not enough.
In a statement to his supporters, Perriello noted that his campaign outperformed many other Democrats who are in "safe" districts, despite the conservative lean of his own. "Because I come out of faith-based justice work instead of politics, I can see last night as a victory for conviction and hard work for the idea that when you fight for the people, the people win," wrote Perriello. "Consider this. We won Danville, Martinsville, Charlottesville, Albermarle, Prince Edward, Brunswick, Buckingham, and Nelson with stronger than expected turnout. Over 110,000 voters had our back last night. And when you compare us to other races across the state and nation, we dramatically outperformed others in "safer" districts and those where members had either dodged the tough votes or run away from them after. And we did not back away from this President when it would have been convenient, because in politics, I will stand with the problem solvers over the political game players any day."
Justin Ruben, the head of MoveOn.org, which fought to protect progressive members, put out a statement Wednesday explaining the devastation.
Last night was devastating, no question. Our members spent months working tirelessly for our progressive heroes and to help Democrats keep the House--and the results are far from what we wanted.
We are glad our progressive hero, Barbara Boxer, will be returning to Congress, but we're deeply saddened at the losses of Russ Feingold, Tom Perriello, and Alan Grayson--all of whom have fought hard for progressive principles and the American middle class. These folks ran proudly on their records, but in the end, as Democratic incumbents, the combination of voter discontent and corporate cash was just too much for them to overcome.
We have seen significant accomplishments over the last two years --more children have health care, more Americans are protected from predatory practices on Wall Street, and more students can afford to go to college. But Republicans and corporate front groups like the Chamber of Commerce, aided by FOX News, systematically misled the American people about the nature of those gains.
And then voters, desperate for a majority that would fight for the middle class instead saw lobbyists successfully protect Wall Street bonuses, strip the public option out of the healthcare bill, protect the insurance companies' antitrust exemption, kill "cram-down" legislation that could have helped homeowners, and mire the energy bill in gridlock. And whether they were motivated by self-interest, a genuine belief in their ability to strike a compromise, political calculation, or fear, far too many Democrats were willing to go along.
Democrats who decided to play ball with corporate interests found themselves friendless: not only did voters turn their backs on them, but so did the industries they sought to mollify. From Glenn Nye to Blanche Lincoln, play-it-safe Democrats have been sent packing. Corporate interests and oil billionaires poured unprecedented cash into political attack ads hitting not only front line Democrats, but turning previously safe seats into bitter fights for survival. This means we now have a Republican majority in the House of Representatives that owes its majority to big corporations and a small handful of wealthy donors. And, it suggests that claiming to support Democratic principles while quietly pandering to corporate interests is no longer a winning political strategy.
Our country still faces many challenges as we try to recover from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Last night's election was not a mandate for the Republican vision of America, which is built around tax cuts for the super-wealthy and privatizing Social Security and Medicare. Instead, last night we saw an anxious and frustrated electorate rejecting the status quo in the only way possible: by voting out those in power. And we saw their frustration effectively exploited by corporate front groups whose sole interest is promoting their own political agenda.
The problems our nation faces are not small, and neither are the solutions we need. Democrats do not hand over the reins of power today. They still have time to accomplish big things to help move our country forward before the Republicans takes control of the House. Now is not a time to cower. Now is a time for Democrats to show that they are truly committed to fighting on behalf of the middle class. Before turning over the gavel, Democrats must end the Bush tax breaks for the super-wealthy, and pass legislation to stem the flood of cash from corporations and anonymous billionaires that is corrupting our elections. If Democrats abandon their responsibilities and leave town without accomplishing these goals, they will not have learned the real lessons of this election.
Our members worked for change in 2004, in 2006, in 2008. Our members will now work to hold this new Congress accountable, and are more determined than ever to work again for change in 2012.
Adam Green, whose Progressive Change Campaign Committee backed a number of progressive Democrats who were swept away, released a similar statement Tuesday night:
Democrats lost because party leaders never truly fought for popular progressive reforms like the public option and breaking up the big banks, leaving voters uninspired to come to the polls and vote Democratic. What the average voter saw of Democrats was weak, watered-down change -- and weak Democratic leaders who cut deals with the very Wall Street banks and insurance companies they are supposed to be fighting.
It's unfortunate that bold progressives like Russ Feingold got dragged down in a national rejection of Democratic Party weakness. Progressives will be stepping up and insisting that the Democratic Party be bolder, not weaker. We will demand boldness, reward bold leaders, reject 'leaders' in name only, and hold Democratic politicians accountable when they don't fight for popular, progressive change.
In short, these next two years, progressives will push Democrats to fight strongly for popular progressive reforms -- and save the Democratic Party from its own incredible weakness that savaged Democratic candidates in 2010.