Democrats suffered devastating losses on Election Day. No way to sugarcoat it, no way to spin it. But choosing the leadership team for Democrats in the House is the first opportunity we have to chart a course back to the majority, so I want a campaign, I want a vote, and I want Rep. James Clyburn as Democratic Whip. And I am asking the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Illinois delegation and all my fellow Democrats to support him.
A competitive leadership election will be the Democratic Party's first chance to cut through hundreds of millions of dollars of third-party and corporate ads and remind the American people that we're still standing, and what we stand for. We should make it clear there is no retreating and we stand by the values and policies that make us Democrats.
It's easy to apologize and surrender. That would be a mistake. Instead of waving a white flag and waiting for the smoke of battle to clear, it's time to dig in and fight. I believe if we retreat now, we will never recover the ground we surrender. If we watch quietly from the sidelines, extremists who are hostile to our accomplishments will yell the loudest, get the most attention, dominate the debate and could do a great deal of damage.
Let's be clear: as soon as Republicans take the oath in the 112th Congress, they are going to attack what we have accomplished in the 111th. I am proud of the progress we made and the legislation we passed. Was it perfect? No. But I believe we are waving goodbye to 60 Democratic colleagues not because of what we accomplished - but because of what we failed to attempt. Democrats are going home not because of what we've done, but because of what we let our political opponents do to us.
The next Congress shouldn't be about remaking Democrats, it should be about reminding America what we stand for.
A good place to start reminding people who you are is with simple facts, plainly spoken.
This week, I did what a lot of parents have wanted to do for years: I signed my 22 year-old daughter up on my insurance policy for full coverage. Millions of Americans will do the same. It's a sensible reform that will help working families across this nation. It's the right thing to do and the Democratic Party should be proud that we got it done despite nothing but distortions and drama from the other party.
In this election, I heard lots of anonymous, corporate ads attack some vague, sinister idea called "Obamacare," but I didn't see Karl Rove finance one ad that said "vote Republican and we'll make sure you can't sign up your 22-year-old daughter on your family's health insurance policy." Not one.
I saw lots of ads about scary tax increases, but none that said "vote for us and we'll end consumer protections, defend the credit card companies and put Wall Street first."
Yet that is what the Tea-Republican Party will do in two months.
We should have a leadership election so Democrats can be clear about what we've done and who we are.
Because Democrats didn't stop with sensible health care reforms. We put billions of dollars into student loans - and streamlined the process to make them cheaper for taxpayers and students. We gave states money to rehire teachers and first-responders. We took unprecedented steps to protect consumers from the gouging effects of credit card fees. We put in place oversight over financial institutions, new transparency in financial transactions, and strengthened consumer protections against Wall Street overreach. And our stimulus money and car industry investments saved jobs and saved major U.S. employers like GM.
These are real changes that affect working families - and they are starting to pay off. We're the party that took the heat to prevent insurance companies from denying people with pre-existing conditions. Despite every effort by our opponents, vastly more Americans can now get the care they need instead of burdening our emergency rooms. We stood up to polluters like BP - Republicans tried to stop us. We took on outrageous credit card fees - Republicans tried to stop us. We worked at every turn to stimulate the economy - Republicans tried to stop us.
Despite Republican efforts, more Americans can access health care, consumers are protected from unfair credit and lending efforts and the economy - and the stock market - are showing signs of coming back to life.
We have far more to do. In this economy, we cannot rest and shouldn't be taking credit - we should be making more plans to create jobs and put people to work. We should be refining and improving our health care reforms. We should continue to push for fairness for the LGBT community. We should continue to dig out of the deep pit of debt that George Bush and the Republican Party have dug for the American people.
In short, we should do what the Democratic Party has always done. We should fight for working class families, homeowners, students, union members, parents, immigrants, consumers and senior citizens. We need the Democratic Caucus of the House of Representatives to fight to maintain and extend the rights of the individuals, the underdogs, and the people who are seeking the American Dream against the headwind of our economic troubles.
You wouldn't know it to read the pundits, or to listen to many of the head-shaking and hand-wringing Democrats who wondered where it all went wrong - but the truth is our failure was a political failure - not a policy failure.
Historic health care reforms. Consumer protection. Investments in education. Economic stimulus. This is the right path for America - and all of these accomplishments were driven by progressive Democrats, helped in many cases by moderate Democrats, and always with stiff opposition from conservatives in both parties, and almost always against unanimous opposition from Republicans.
If we have any chance to continue to make progress, we need progressive leaders who understand what our party is about. If there is any chance to overturn the Don't Ask-Don't Tell policy that bans gays and lesbians from openly serving our country, we need to stand by progressive values to fight for it. If there is a chance of securing civil rights protections like equal pay protections, we need to stand by progressive values to fight for it. If immigration reform is a priority of the Democratic Party, this President, and the leaders in both Chambers, we need to stand by progressive values to fight for it.
It's easy to retreat. Karl Rove and his corporate funders are betting we will. But those of us who've been around a while have seen this movie before. In 1994, the movie starred Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. The pundits described our party as "roadkill" that would be left out of America's new conservative future.
But in the House of Representatives - the people's house - we stood our ground and fought; to protect workers, to preserve Social Security, for fair taxes. We saw it as our duty to protect working families and the accomplishments we had achieved for them. We drew a line in the sand and defended it as best we could, sometimes against our own President. We didn't rely on anyone else or hope the Senate would do it. We took some hard hits - but we stood together and paved the way for a Democratic majority.
We can, and will, do it again - but not if we retreat. Not if we give up. Not if we say to the anti-health care, anti-consumer, anti-environment forces on their way here - 'maybe you guys were right.' They were wrong in 1994. They are wrong today. And it's our job to stop them.
I know Rep. Jim Clyburn will stand with me to stop them. I don't support him because he's my friend and we've served together a long time. Or because he's African-American. His seniority and his race are meaningless to me.
I support Jim Clyburn because he will not apologize for being a progressive. He will not hesitate to stand up for jobs, to stand up for health care. He'll stand up for justice, and stand up for inclusion and equality.
When Republicans start ramming through rollbacks on these accomplishments next year, we will need about 146 votes to sustain the President's veto on issues vital to the American people. Soft leadership unsure of what we stand for can easily let our 178 votes slip away below 146. Fundamental accomplishments will be at stake.
Democrats can't apologize their way to victory. We need a Democratic Whip who supports the goals of progressive policies and then is willing to fight sensibly to defend those convictions and principles. We need a man whose commitment to progressive values and inclusive policies is deeply rooted in his faith and care for his fellow men and women.
We need a leader who will remind the American people what Democrats stand for - yesterday, today and tomorrow. We need Jim Clyburn.