With the midterms one month in the rear view mirror, a number of lessons seem clear. For example, no matter how badly their candidates do, somehow the elitist, loser ideas of the Third Way crowd find their way back into the conversation. It's funny how unlimited corporate money can help in that endeavor.
Here is a reminder--provided by the always astute, Cliff Schecter -- about what this little caucus of Gordon Gekkos hand delivered the Democratic Party in 2014:
There's also one other group that should have a big bout of indigestion over this. The center-right hedge fund clique known as Third Way, and associated Blue Dogs and hangers on. Because when economically populist measures pass by huge margins and "radical centrist" Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) of the cut-Social-Security-and-kowtow-to-the-NRA crowd almost loses a sure-thing Senate seat, it is pretty clear where the country stands; not with him (PDF).
When Blue Dogs--or conservative Democratic House members--of the John Barrow, cocking-my-guns-and-cutting-budgets variety try and claim a mandate for their shopworn policies, these ballot initiatives will be right there to remind Americans that there's a consensus for the un-Barrow. If you think these are just two examples, plug Third Way Honorary Co-Chairs Mark Udall and Kay Hagan, Blue Dogs Nick Rahall and Pete Gallego, or the most conservative Democratic Senator, Mark Pryor, into this equation, instead (Pryor was going down to an ignominious double-digit defeat while the minimum wage ballot measure was crushing it in his home state). It's pretty easy to follow: Third Way Kills.
Living up to their ideological heirs, The Bourbon Democrats, who, like French Royalty, "forgot nothing and learned nothing," this GOP romp of the mushy "can't we all get along...and please don't hurt us!" crowd, doesn't seem to have taught the Serious People much of anything. Which is all one can glean from the aforementioned Mark Warner being added to leadership, totally what you do with someone who betrayed the entire economic agenda the Democratic Party supposedly stands for to pull that kind of a Munson.
Nothing says leadership like running on Social Security cuts that polls say nobody wants and giving voice to more peyote-pipe dreams of the bipartisan tooth fairy. That's the formula that had him come within a hair of blowing a 20 point lead to a guy he vastly outspent and whose name (Gillespie) is synonymous with one of the largest lobbying shops in DC. Impressive.
When voters pass minimum wage hikes in four of the reddest states--Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas--but still reject Democrats nationally and, perhaps more troublesome, even locally, that should tell you something. It also provides more clarity in terms of the lessons of this election.
It may not be as sexy and talked about as much, but we have placed many more states in dire straits, Democrats lost numerous legislative chambers this cycle, and dug a larger hole in ones conservatives already controlled. This will also keep the outrageous gerrymandering of not only red states, but purple ones (Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona) in place if not overcome before 2020.
Here are two keys to fixing this mess:
1) Stop ALEC's corrupt agenda of buying corporate and socially regressive policies in state legislatures with their largesse.
2) Fund more Initiatives in the 24 states that allow them, so we can go around the bought off Tea-Baggers.
When it comes to the first need, there's a new organization being built to continue Howard Dean's vision--one that he successfully implemented while DNC Chair--of a 50 state strategy. The new outfit's called the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), and will be a state-based progressive infrastructure to take on ALEC. They will also create polices and develop new ideas to serve Americans' needs. Nick Rathod, who is leading the effort, is the former Special Assistant to President Obama and Deputy Director for Intergovernmental Affairs, and is already raising money through groups like The Democracy Alliance. This could be exactly what is needed to start winning back the states.
Regarding the second point, with those minimum wage initiatives, paid sick days, pot legalization and background checks for guns all winning huge victories, it should be obvious that this is a clear route to establishing policies that real life human beings, and not corporate donors, want.
To pick out the last two examples, pot is now legal in Oregon and Alaska, and a Florida medicare marijuana amendment got 58 percent of the vote, and only failed to pass because 60 percent was required to change the state constitution. Also, it still would have passed, and only didn't because its biggest financial backer, flashy, loudmouth Florida trial lawyer John Morgan decided to show up at a student rally drunk, yelling expletives about being "fucked up."
And then reminisced in front of that same audience about his days "smoking a lot of grass." Oops. By the way, word is that someone will try to once again get his passed in Florida in 2016, so please John, find another hobby so this one has a chance.
The other example, I-594 instituting background checks in Washington State, is another success (it passed with just under 60 percent) that can and will be replicated (the requisite number of signatures to put it on Nevada's ballot in 2016 has already been collected--Arizona, Maine and Oregon are other potential states where it might make the ballot). This is also a way to represent the will of the people in our laws, as the vast majority of Americans support background checks, but their representatives in Washington and at him are too often either bought off or too cowardly to do what is right.
A positive side effect is that the NRA, by coming out against these common sense measures, will continue to see a drop in their job approval and favorability, as as Gun Truth Project poll showed in the wake of the Washington vote. THey had lost 20 points in favorability in the past two years, and only clocked in at a 43 percent approval rating.
This is where the action will be the next two years. Democratic left needs to get up off the mat, brush itself off and go do the hard work of taking back the states--via legislation, education and ballot initiative--while standing up strong for principles and not pursuing some elusive "third way."