There appears to be two main narratives circulating about the cause of the widespread Democratic losses in the elections on November 2nd. The first is that the Democrats earned it because their actions over the last two years de-energized the Democrats who voted for hope and change in 2008. The second is that the Democrats who stayed home instead of voting in the mid-terms need to grow up and realize that they were never going to get everything they wanted, that Obama had done everything (or nearly everything) he could, and that they’d just shoot their beliefs in the metaphorical foot. While I’m solidly in the second camp, I remember a time when I would have related to those Democrats whose liberal idealism was deflowered over the last two years. And because I remember what it was like to be young and idealistic, I can appreciate that there is certainly some truth to the first narrative as well.
While I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton in 1992, I was still quite satisfied with him as President when he won the election that year. I was so excited about what that would mean that it was nearly physically painful when many of the campaign promises he’d made ran into stiff resistance from a GOP minority and Clinton was forced to give them up or modify them in ways I didn’t like. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was one of those issues – I felt that the military should take anyone and let them be open about their sexuality, but Clinton felt that DADT was a better option, and I felt betrayed by him as a result. It was like my idealism was a pigeon hitting a plate glass window at 100 MPH. And I was turned off from voting in 1994 because Clinton wasn’t the President I had hoped he would be. I still voted, but that was because I felt (and still to) that voting is a duty, not merely a right.
Since then, however, I’ve watched enough national and local politics to know that it’s a messy, ugly business, and you never get everything you want, no matter how much control over a political body you think you have. There was never any chance that Obama would pass even half of his intended agenda, and so his most fervent supporters were fated to be disappointed. And when fervent supporters are disappointed, they don’t vote until they’re excited by something again. That could have happened this election, but the Democrats missed the opportunity to drive home the message that everything that had been accomplished could be lost if the GOP took control of Congress. Add it to the list of missed opportunities.
So what, if anything, can we learn from this? Well, there are legions of Democrats who need to learn that politics is messy and stuffed full with unpalatable compromises. There’s also a whole slew of Democrats who need to realize that they can’t compromise so much that they turn off the very voters who got them into power in the first place. Put simply, the Democratic base needs to grow the hell up and the Democratic leadership needs to remember what they were like when they were young and before their own idealism had been smacked against a plate glass window at 100 MPH.
Nothing short of the future of the United States is at stake.