Democrats -- or Republicrats, as I prefer to call them, especially now that they have decided to head down a very slippery slope with their House Majority PAC -- continue to see their credibility and brand crumble. With no coordinated message or strategy, they appear to wish to only offer a weak, "centrist" alternative to the authoritarian, clearly messaged lunacy of the Republicans and their Tea Party flunkies. As a result, we the people have been forced to accept one rotten giveaway deal after another, further eroding the way of life we have known for generations. Often, to get one of those mythical "bipartisan" -- perhaps "buy-partisan" would be more appropriate -- deals in Congress, the tepid Dems have adopted the strategy of capitulation before negotiation, a time saver, for sure. This once-noble party is breaking our collective hearts as it appears to move further and further to the right, the lines of distinction between them and the R's ever more blurry.
Now, some in the Democratic leadership have come to believe that in order to compete with the GOP in fundraising and "level the playing field," they must set up a Super PAC so they can gorge at the same trough of unlimited funds from individuals, corporations (and unions, on the Dems' part), though with their donors identified in an effort to make it more palatable. When will they understand that the message is the medium, not the money?
The 5-4 conservative-majority Supreme Court has made this nutsy misadventure necessary with their Citizens United decision, which flows from the conservatives belief that free speech and the first amendment are only as effective as the money behind them. Thus, we have Citizens United, which rolled back 100 years of sanity in campaign finance. And to counter it, we now have Democratic leaders like Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer and Debbie Wasseman Schultz supporting an independent PAC so Dems can play the same game. How silly to think joining the conservatives in the muck will solve anything, or that corporations will somehow embrace core Democratic values.
Democrats must stand on their own and provide a clear, progressive vision of America and a strong, opposing viewpoint to the conservative boondoggles of tax cuts, "limited" (or, more accurately, "no") government and deregulation. Dems can win this battle by championing positions that are not only popular but also happen to be right, like corporations paying their fair share of taxes, closing corporate tax loopholes and ending corporate subsidies for businesses that send American jobs overseas, points which our President is only now revving up on in the debt ceiling debate. They can also call for ending offshore tax havens for corporations and the rich; securing our safety nets like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; providing every American with universal healthcare; real Wall Street reform; immigration reform; consumer protection; and collective bargaining in good faith for labor -- both in the private and public sectors. All of these, as well as a host of other Democratic core issues, should be included in Democratic strategy and messaging for regaining control of Congress.
How could the Democratic leadership possibly believe that corporations would support and contribute to their Super PAC if those corporations see core Democratic values as being at odds with their self-interests and the interests of their shareholders? Which prompts the question: Are Dems now selling (us) out to those same corporations? Are Dems willing to toss their beliefs and values overboard in search of the mighty corporate donor dollar? One shudders to think of the consequences if this turns out to be true.
If the Dems must play this game and have any hope of competing without selling their collective souls, then they must find among them -- or, more likely, outside the party somewhere -- their own Karl Rove and his Cross Roads GPS, as well as dopplegangers of that evil duo the Koch brothers. Who could fill such roles? No Democratic strategist I know of could match up with Rove -- certainly none of Obama's people or any of the dry and tired leftovers from the Clintons' respective camps. George Soros comes to mind as a match for the Kochs, but he became so disheartened by the Dems that he all but dropped out, instead focusing on promoting issues close to his heart for the past few election cycles. It is a given that progressives and Democrats cannot raise the kind of money the Republicans and conservatives can. After all, Dems are the people's party, while Republicans are the party of the rich and corporate and special interests. These must be big selling points for the Democrats to continue to hammer home to the voters from now through 2012, and beyond.
Another thing to consider is that the Dems raised more than chump change without a PAC in the 2010 election cycle, according to FEC data released May 24, 2010. The DNC raised $124,545.249, DCCC $79,586.395 and the DSCC $58,738.440, while the the Democratic Party as a whole raised $525,367.321 -- not too shabby, and a potent argument for Dems not to dive in the cesspool of Super PAC funding. In 2012, Dems look to rake in considerably more, and there is talk of the Presidential campaign costing in the neighborhood of $1 billion. Democrats may not equal the GOP in fundraising, but certainly they have the issues to regain the House and increase their numbers in the Senate. But who will teach them how to message and reach those millions of voters? And do they even know what the message is?
The Dems need to give the American people a reason to support their party, and in my mind the answer clearly is that they should support public financing of elections and passing an amendment canceling out the Citizens United decision. Make that the campaign mantra from the Democratic Party. That alone could generate enough energy for the Democrats to retake control of Congress. End this crazy money chase once and for all. We are better than that.
We will, however, need a president who will find his backbone and get down and dirty for the salvation of our nation and its people. He must reject his corporatist proclivities and lead! Tell the American people what the real mission of the Tea Party controlled Congress is all about. He must expose their extremist agenda to place us into perpetual servitude, further gut regulations and destroy everything we hold dear, such as Social Security and Medicare, our golden achievements as a civilized society. To "starve the beast" and bring down our government, that is their mission.
Meanwhile, Democratic messages continue to confuse, with VP Biden warning the GOP "...we won't let the middle class carry the whole burden on the debt...(B)ut they must be in on the deal." (The Washington Post, June 25, 2011) What exactly does that mean? And what about Senator Chuck Schumer agreeing to make Medicare part of the debt discussion? Don't these guys speak to each other and compare notes and messages? And didn't the President say emphatically that Medicare was off the table not so long ago?
If the R's continue to travel down the dead-end road of the Ryan plan to destroy Medicare, then the Dems will have a huge win, if they seize the opportunity. Ryan is losing face and support in his own caucus on this issue, and seems to have crawled back under his rock. The debt is an issue for all Democrats to unify behind, with a coordinated party message: to default on our debts or raise the debt limit, that is the question. Define themselves as the adults in the room who understand that we as a nation cannot shirk our responsibility to pay our debts and remain solvent, and that it will take a combination of budget belt-tightening, eliminating waste and demanding the rich pay their fair share in taxes for us to get out of this economic mess. Voters will certainly be watching as this nail-biter plays out.
The Democratic Party must become visionaries and proactive, instead of reacting to every crisis that presents itself. Propose a new Marshall Plan that will rebuild America over the next 10 to15 years. If it worked to rebuild a devastated Europe in the post World War II era, it will surely work now to rebuild and improve our crumbling infrastructure. Unleash this job potential Mr. President, and reignite the economy. What would such a plan contain and how would it be implemented? Bring on the creative thinkers, Mr. President! America needs to believe that a better tomorrow is achievable and is just over the horizon. We must end our collective national depression about the state of our affairs and our dwindling democracy.
In recent days, Russ Feingold rightfully slammed this PAC decision by Dems as "dancing with the devil," and warned Dems that they are "in danger of losing their souls and identity," along with their "credibility." Russ, meanwhile, has been successfully building his own Progressives United PAC with small donations from individuals.
What the Democrats must understand is that they can't compete with the conservatives in raising money, as true progressive and democratic beliefs are at odds with this money-chasing ideology. What the Democratic party and its leadership must come up with is a message and a reason to fire up the grassroots to support Democrats during the election and come out on election day and vote (D). So far, there is no message and few Dems worth supporting, although I can think of one, Dr. David Gill, who a few days ago announced his candidacy for the House in the 13th District in Illinois. Will the Dems support this exciting progressive candidate? So far, the party has not stepped up to the plate in support of this candidate during his previous campaigns, in a formerly gerrymandered district. Some campaign money from the DCCC would be well invested in this race.
When Dems controlled the Congress and White House, they could have delivered a hell of a lot more, but failed due to their lack of leadership and an apparent unwillingness to press their advantage. A year they spent on healthcare deliberations, instead of job creation -- a terribly misguided decision, as our economy is still floundering and unemployment continues to hover around 9% today. It is hard to consider the Affordable Care Act an achievement when it still leaves at least 21 million uninsured, while the rest of us will be unable to afford what will be delivered, causing even more of us to drop out before the plan is fully implemented.
Finally, the DNC, DCCC, and DSCC must become more than moneymaking machines. They must create an engaged party membership that is proud to be Democrats. It should inform and activate its members, all year, every year, creating a personal involvement and commitment to the betterment of our collective society. And the party must better identify real progressive candidates, aid them in running successful campaigns and fund them. Get rid of their dead wood in the Congress -- I certainly can recommend a few logs for the fire. Protecting the jobs of useless incumbents into perpetuity has done nothing but leave us with the stagnant, tired party we have now. Heeding the call to noble public service should become the mission for future generations, and the goal of a rekindled Democratic party.
-with Jonathan Stone