01/18/2012 10:54 am ET Updated Mar 19, 2012

2012: Odd Man In?

The 2012 electoral season is now in its second year. Republican presidential candidates began their marathon run in the spring of 2011 and their long round of national "debates" concluded before the first chords of "Auld Lang Syne" were struck. The bizarre timing of an electoral cycle that is close to being a 24/7/365 phenomenon is one odd feature of the current scene. Its near-complete dominance by Republicans is another. Democrats are barely audible off-stage voices. Of course that's due in part to the White House incumbent wearing the Democrat label. Obama's aversion to all political labels, reinforced by the calculation that his chances of reelection are improved by running against Congress and once again casting himself as the above-the-fray healer, further mutes the Democratic brand name. It is true, though, that all Democrats have benefited from having the spotlight focused on the sorry spectacle of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

That is a stroke of luck. The past three years could have been ones of triumph that solidified a position of dominance for the Democratic Party and a reborn progressive philosophy. Instead, thanks to their own feebleness and lack of conviction, they are bewitched, bothered and bewildered. They don't know who they are, what they stand for or how to free themselves from the stifling grip of the moneyed interests to whom they have let themselves become indebted.

They certainly will get no direction and uplift from President Obama. A White House that has turned compromise and bipartisanship into synonyms for surrender views the political landscape from their chosen vantage point that is located somewhere between Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon. Unable and unwilling to make a forceful case for their claim to power, having estranged their natural constituencies, the Democrats' best hope was for the feckless Republicans to disqualify themselves. That is exactly what they have been doing. So each of the parties pursues its own losing strategy -- the outcome to be determined by who makes the most turnovers and mires itself in ineptitude.

Oddities abound. It is the most reactionary Republican presidential aspirants who have brought the harsh reality of private equity firms into public view. We can thank their desperation to find a way of undercutting Mitt Romney for that. That such a discredited cardboard figure should be the frontrunner with the White House there for the taking adds to the incongruity. In denouncing private equity and their like as locusts destroying the fiber of the American economy, the anti-Romney forces have split the Republican ranks. The populist current of the Tea Party is being reenergized after its sidelining by the fat cats who bankrolled it but never took seriously its anti establishment emotions. Business interests are appalled -- the financial wheeler-dealers above all. Isn't anything sacred in this unruly primary melee?

Democrats, over the past four years of financial ruin, have never been brave enough even to let the words private equity pass their lips. Mr. Obama, of course, long ago dedicated himself to doing nothing to aggravate the hurt feelings of the Wall Street moguls for whom he has long expressed public admiration. Congressional Democrats, too, have been tongue-tied thanks to the widespread fear of being turned away from the funding spigot that keeps them more or less ambulatory. Now they have received political manna from Heaven without saying a thing -- much less alienating any potential Sugar Daddy. Logic suggests that they would exploit this opening to tap into the sour mood of voters who harbor ill will toward the country's financial barons. That is not likely to happen. Democrats are so fatigued and disoriented that aggression -- even in a cause that sharpens their image to obvious electoral advantage -- is beyond them.

This latest turn in the nation's free-form politics is both a godsend and a distraction from the Democrats' basic dilemma. Beyond fear of the far Right, they have nothing to run on other than their thin record of accomplishment during their two, or four, years of nominal rule. In historical perspective, they have done little more than shore up the status quo at a time when its injustices and destabilizing effects manifest themselves in the starkest colors possible. The much touted financial reform leaves the core structures and practices of the financial operators intact. The Security & Exchange Commission joins hands with Morgan Chase to defy the court order of a federal judge. More people are either insecure in their jobs or unemployed than any time in the past 70 years. Fewer people have adequate health care than they did three years ago and the prospects for making Obama's Rube Goldberg-esque construction work in delivering care to those in need are dim. It certainly will do next to nothing to reduce the onerous costs of a for-profit medical system. Civil liberties have been cast overboard as Bush's worst practices are now institutionalized. Moreover, the foundation programs of Social Security and Medicare are on the ropes thanks to ideological warfare and a disinformation project that the White House has backed with the full faith and credit of the presidency.

An implicit campaign slogan declaring that "we're all Blue Dog Democrats now," in line with Obama's confidence to conservative Democratic Representatives that he's "always been a Blue Dog at heart," will not keep the Party off life support -- without Republican help. It surely will do little for its constituents or for the nation's well-being.