The article headline is, Obama Factor Adds to Fears Of Democrats. Alex Sink, the Democratic contender, lost a special election for a House seat in Florida. Republican groups, many backed by funds from the Koch brothers, are running adds attacking the new health law. And the Wall Street Journal-NBC poll shows Obama’s job approval rating dropping to 41% from 43% just two months ago. Democrats are panicking, and when they do, they do stupid things.
The first thing Democrats need to do is acknowledge math. In 2012 Nancy Pelosi won her seat in California’s 8th House district with 85% of the vote. Mark Pryor will not win 85% of the vote in his Senate race in Arkansas. Nor will Mark Begich, nor Mary Landrieu, nor Kay Hagen. If each of them manages to win their elections, you can bet they won’t get more than 52% of the vote. But the other 48% of the vote doesn’t matter. They don’t need to appeal to that sector of the electorate which isn’t going to vote for them anyway. If a large section of the voting population is sour on the ACA, appeasing them is not going to help their chances of winning. People don’t get to give partial votes. If a voter is 20% less pissed off at you because you tap dance and demonstrate that you’re not a complete supporter of the law, you don’t get 20% of their vote. You still get none. And if a large enough majority of voters don’t like the ACA and that’s the issue they’re going to decide their vote on, they’re going to vote Republican no matter how much you try to distance yourself from the ACA. Refusing to own Obamacare is like betting against the house; you might not lose big, but you will assuredly lose. So play your own game. At least that way you have a chance.
As Greg Sargent characterizes Paul Begala’s advice on how Democrats should handle Obamacare, “Stop being so damn defensive about the law and show people it’s worth fighting for, already.” Or in Begala’s own words, “We should flip the wording of how we talk about Obamacare,” Begala told me today. “Open on offense, instead of on defense.” The mixed message which Democrats have been responding with makes them look weak, and that makes them unattractive as candidates. Alex Sink lost the special election in Florida. She pussyfooted around Obamacare, it was awkward, and it didn’t work. She would have improved her chances had she come out swinging. (Begala has some talking points here.)
Who’s the most popular Democrat today? Elizabeth Warren. Because she’s honest. She’s fearless. She has a backbone and maybe she can give other Democrats a spine transplant. She argues for progressive redress. She takes President Obama to task for appointing judges supporting corporate interests rather than those with a background at public interest organizations. She was the motivating force behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and would have been its first chair had the Republicans not been so scared of her that they blocked the agency from even conducting business. She has campaigned to extend rather than shrink Social Security; to allow the Post Office to provide banking services to the poor; to reign in the National Security Agency; to promote campaign finance reform; universal preschool; and to fight income inequality. She has gone to bat for college students weighed down by so much debt; and promoted increasing the minimum wage.
She’s done all of these things and she’s the most popular Democrat today. Why, then, are other Democrats shrinking from doing their duty to their constituents and their country?