11/09/2014 07:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

After GOP Pins Blame on Donkey, Can Dems Find Their Inner TR by '16?



By Mark Green

Corn and Christie debate if Republicans won a wave election but not mandate since they campaigned only on "Obama Sucks". Q: How did Dems get blamed for gridlock and the economy by a GOP responsible for the Shutdown and Recession? A: Political malpractice. Q: Can Obama make a deal on Immigration? A: Not with a Party With the Fringe on the Top.

What just happened?

Ron credits the late GOP surge to "a clear repudiation of Harry Reid's obstructionism, support for a smaller, less intrusive government and concern about an economy that's good for Wall Street but not Main Street." (Host: the best post-election explanation is a metaphor from Republican consultant Josh Brabender, who cites the Rex Ryan Strategy -- if your team is losing, you might as well put in the back-up quarterback to see if that makes a difference.) David agrees that Republicans were "fired up!" about Obama and then showed up. But there is no mandate since the winners didn't run on specific policies.

Was Obama delusional or effective in his calm post-election presser? Ron regards him as arrogant, silly, petulant (Obama petulant?). "The public sent him a message but he didn't hear it. All nine new Republican senators are opposed to Obamacare, for example, yet he blew them off." David dismisses such criticism because, when Republicans suffered an even bigger defeat in 2012, they didn't surrender their views on, say, guns and health care. Indeed, he points out how many Democratic policy positions won referenda that day - on gun safety, pot, the minimum wage. (Peggy Noonan too is angry that Obama isn't "humbled" by electoral rebuke. But when her hero Reagan famously said, "there's gotta be a pony in there somewhere", she swooned. Who does Obama think he is not crying uncle!)

How did the GOP successfully play the blame game on gridlock since, to quote Paul Krugman, "Republicans discovered that obstruction bordering on sabotage was a successful political strategy." David concludes that voters blame the guy apparently in charge which would be the president and that, as the party of government, Democrats attract most of the blame when government doesn't perform well enough. Ron continues to chastise Obama and Democrats for not listening. But aren't GOP refusniks unusually adversarial? Recall that Bush43 won Democratic votes for his early tax cuts. Replies Christie: "Well that was because he really listened to Democrats while Obama doesn't listen to Republicans."

Since Obama is basically digging the economy out of the deep hole that Bush43 dug -- jobless rate cut in half, auto industry saved, stock market nearly tripled, Depression averted -- is voter resentment of Democrats for the economy a classic case of 'no good deed goes unpunished'? Couldn't Obama come up with some Rooseveltian/Reaganish version of "Morning in America"? Ron plays up the low-participation rate because many workers have just given up looking for jobs. Both agree that economic gains have not reached many middle class workers because of worsening income inequality that's been occurring, according to Obama, "over the past 10, 20, 30 years."

David frets that continuing economic insecurity may mean regular "throw-the-bums-out" midterm elections and unpopular presidents "for the remainder of our lifetimes."

Can a more conservative Republican House and Senate work better with this Democratic president? Ron thinks there are areas of consensus, citing patent reform, Keystone Pipeline, tax reform; but David doubts it given a party driven by Tea Party radicals. Is it possible that a president who really wants a pathway to citizenship for millions of residents could come to some consensus with GOP leaders who really don't want to keep losing Hispanic voters 3-1 in presidential elections and flunking out of the Electoral College? Theoretically yes but probably not when one party's base thinks the president of the other is an untrustworthy "clown."

Republicans in the election did what they always do, unanimously and repeatedly hating on Obama. But Democrats apparently like playing defense since they had no counter meta-narrative of their own. Their framing brings to mind Churchill's complaint about pudding: "it lacks theme."

Was it truly untenable for Democrats to compare themselves to Republicans who a) shut the government to stop millions from getting health insurance; and b) tanked the economy that Democrats are provably improving? How about something straightforward like "They want to enrich the one percent. We're for the 100 percent because Americans are all better off only when we're all better off. Let's vote ourselves a raise."

Americans think that the system is rigged and that economic elites use political power to enrich themselves and worsen income inequality. So why not say it and propose corrective policies -- tax changes, pension reform, Social Security fixes, minimum wage, infrastructure, etc.? And while the party of FDR/Clinton/Obama are at it, why not loudly denounce how the Republican strategy depends on more money and fewer voters. Sure looks like the Roberts Court won this election given the unprecedented mountain of money and record low voters (since 1940s). Would this have been merely a process argument that always fails to move voters? TR didn't think so. And "Democracy" is a word as compellingly American as "Freedom."

So in 2016 Democrats need to make sure that they have the themes, policies and passion to inspire the 2012 "Coalition of the Ascendant" to turn out. That means embracing, not running from, the Warren-Buffett argument that there is a class war and the wealthy are winning it because Democrats have been scared off by donors. But if they stand for nothing, voters will fall for anything. The issue isn't Left-Right but who's on our side with a program for prosperity that's shared by all.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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