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Richard Greener Headshot

A Dagger To The Heart Of The Democratic Party - Once Bitten, Twice Shy

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Barack Obama may have taken the literary triumphs of "Change We Can Believe In" and the stirringly inspirational, "We are the ones we have been waiting for" and turned both poignant sentiments into sharp daggers pointed right at the heart of the Democratic Party. Once bitten, twice shy.

Following FDR, the closest we shall ever come to an American President for life, until Barack Obama in 2008 only two Democrats were able to get a majority of the popular vote in a Presidential election. This is not an insignificant failure. It covers 15 elections and 64 years. In a more current perspective, imagine if the Democrats failed to get half the Presidential vote in another election until the year 2072. Yes, Truman won after FDR, but with 49% of the vote. JFK was the next Democrat elected President in 1960, but also with only 49% of the popular vote. Following the Kennedy assassination, Lyndon Johnson won in a landslide with 61% and twelve years later, on the heels of the Nixon scandal and resignation, Jimmy Carter was elected with exactly 50% of the popular vote. The Democrats would have to wait until Bill Clinton in 1992 to see another Presidential victory. However, Clinton received only 43% of the popular vote in a three-way race that saw George H. W. Bush get the lowest percentage (37%) of any President who has ever run for reelection. Four years later, Clinton was reelected himself, but again with only 49% of the vote.

So, allowing for the two greatest catastrophes in modern Presidential history - the JFK assassination and the Nixon resignation - no Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 has been able to get more than half the Americans voting in a Presidential election to vote for a Democrat. That is, until Barack Obama ran for President in 2008. Obama's victory with almost 70 million votes was not only the largest popular vote of all-time, he received 53% of the total vote. This was by far the most dramatic Democratic victory since Roosevelt's first reelection in 1936 - 72 years earlier.

All the Democratic losers since World War II have disappointed once the votes were counted. Adlai Stevenson got 44% in 1952 and less (42%) in 1956; Hubert Humphrey got 43% of the vote in 1968 and George McGovern stumbled in with only 38% in 1972; Jimmy Carter, with only 41%, was beaten badly by Ronald Reagan in 1980; and Walter Mondale did no better in 1984; Dukakis managed 46% of the popular vote in 1988 against Bush the Elder; Al Gore got only 48% in 2000 (although he won more votes than Bush did); and John Kerry got the same 48% in 2004. Those numbers, taken with the less than majority totals for winning Democrats Truman, Kennedy and Clinton, show what an amazing achievement Barack Obama's campaign pulled off in 2008. It was a mandate of historical proportions.

None of that - the success of the Obama electoral machine in 2008 - may matter in 2012 and 2016. And it's not the movement of the country to the right that will account for the coming losses to be suffered by the Democratic Party. America moving to the right is a figment of the media's fertile imagination. Obama himself is responsible. Like LBJ and Jimmy Carter before him, this Democratic President has failed in his promises to his own supporters. Johnson declared that "American boys should not fight a war that Asian boys should fight." Then he sent a half-million American boys to Vietnam, enabling the election of Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter ran the domestic economy into the proverbial toilet, then found himself held hostage by the Iranian revolution. The result: eight years of Ronald Reagan and four more of George H. W. Bush.

Barack Obama won in 2008 because enough disaffected Democrats and center-left independents joined the non-majority base of Democratic Party voters. They did so because Obama promised real and meaningful change. They did so because they really believed him. They voted for a Democrat because he promised to restore constitutional government by ending such abuses as warrantless searches, rendition and endless detainment without trial at Guantanamo Bay. They voted for Obama because he said he supported "single-payer universal healthcare" not just any bill named healthcare reform. They voted for a Democrat who was supposed to appoint Supreme Court justices as progressive in their outlook as the Republicans had appointed right-wing extremists like Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito. They voted for a Democrat for President and large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate because they believed the Democratic Party would actually govern in accordance with their electoral mandate.

Instead, we have a de facto minority government, organized and instituted, operated with oily efficiency by the Republicans in the Senate, combined with the Obama administration's capitulation thinly disguised as a bipartisan attempt. Those in charge at the White House and in the Democratic Party ought to be asking: Who voted for that? And: Who will vote for that... again? What is representative democracy if the representatives won't follow the will of the majority who voted for them?

Instead of taking their mandate seriously - instead of being "the ones we were waiting for" - this Democratic Party and this Democratic President have simply failed to lead. The never-ending wars continue unabated. The Supreme Court gets more women, but they are moderates at best, not progressives. Gitmo is still open. Constitutional abuses of civil liberties under Bush/Cheney have become the policy of the Obama administration. These failures plus the meager, insufficient and less than promised legislative results are just not enough for those who didn't vote Democratic for 64 years -but did vote for Obama - to do it anytime soon again. The protests may come from the President's spokesman, even from Obama himself, but the sad fact remains - we have not seen "Change We Can Believe In" and the current crop of Democrats are certainly not the ones we've been waiting for.