Over the past few months watching the agenda from the leaders in Washington, I have thought back to 1983 with more frequency as the days have gone by. That year I was running in my last election for the Virginia Senate before seeking my first statewide office two years later … but I haven’t been thinking back to a Virginia election or even an election on this side of the Atlantic these past few weeks.
No, I have been thinking about the 1983 national election in Britain. “There shall be no compromise with the electorate!” one faction of the British Labour Party demanded as it pushed the party’s ideology further and further away from where the vast majority of the electorate resided. The people of Britain obliged by keeping the Labour Party out of power for the next 14 years. It was only when the leadership of the party realized that the people not only had something valuable to say but that they also had the right to cast votes that decided elections was the Labour Party given the right to govern again in 1997.
“There shall be no compromise with the electorate!”
No one in the Washington wing of the Democratic Party actually said those words in 2010, but they didn’t need to. Instead, their actions spoke volumes about how they did not feel any need to compromise with the electorate.
In 2008, the American people threw the Republicans out of power up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. Despite long selling itself as the party of fiscal restraint, the American people had become tired of a Republicans Party that had spent too much tax money unwisely, run up more debt than anyone ever believed imaginable, and ballooned the deficit so big that a large percentage of members of the GOP thought they deserved to lose power in D.C.
After the economy crashed in September 2008 the presidential campaign essentially became unwinnable for the Republicans. People began losing jobs — even those who thought their comfortable professional positions were safe — and couldn’t pay their mortgages or bills. Others who kept their jobs were all too aware that they might be next, because they saw neighbors, friends, and family members affected with jarringly sudden financial devastation. People like these folks couldn’t vote to build Democratic majorities in Congress fast enough.
What did Americans want these Democratic majorities to do? CHANGE: Concentrate on the economy and jobs. Is that what they got? No.
They got a stimulus bill that was full of pork, not the infrastructure repairs the nation needed from that legislation. They got bigger deficits. They got talk of what taxes might be raised. They got a health care plan that wasn’t well explained, or at the top of the agenda for many Americans.
Everything but the single-minded focus on jobs that most people thought they were hiring Democrats to do.
In short, Democrats behaved as if there would be no compromise with the electorate.
On Tuesday, November 2, the American people responded in kind. Nancy Pelosi will no longer be the speaker of the House of Representatives. The Democratic majority in the United States Senate barely was preserved, but it is a majority in name only. There is little effective control. The Democratic Party held a majority of the nation’s gubernatorial chairs (which is especially important given the role of governors during redistricting), but after Tuesday that lead is no more.
In making such broad changes in political leadership this past Tuesday, the electorate gave power to a Republican Party it still doesn’t like or trust because of what took place during the presidency of George W. Bush. The GOP’s popularity rating in most polls is in the 20 percent range. That shows that voters don’t necessarily care who governs, they just will keep changing Washington until they a find a group of politicians who can make government work again.
Yes, the American people sent a message at the ballot box on November 2. It was unmistakable, and it was loud and clear. That message needs to be heard by Democratic leaders in Washington before Barack Obama’s name is on the ballot again in 2012.
The Democratic Party needs a better message. And as I have stated before, the party apparatus itself needs new, more effective spokespersons, and the White House is included in that admonition to change how it’s message is communicated and understood by the American people. I have already made known what those changes should be, and there is no need to repeat them. I have no animus toward anyone, nor personal ambition of my own — only a desire for what is best for this nation.
Democrats need a message that is understood and resonant with the American public because that message is of the people’s ideals and it reflects the people’s desire for where they want the nation to go and what the feel those in Washington should be doing. An agenda not rooted in the consent of the governed is not an agenda worthy of the Democratic Party, which for centuries has been the people’s party. Can Democrats in Washington look in their mirrors and say they have lived up to that mantle? No, they cannot.
However, the GOP cannot be let off the hook, either. Republicans can no longer be the “party of no.” They have been given a seat at the table. Americans have given them the chance to show that members of the Republican legislative conference in Congress can work with the president and Senate to get the country back on track again. There are extreme elements of that party that will not want to compromise to get something done for the people. They would do well to look across the aisle to see what happens when the will of the people is ignored.
“No compromise with the electorate!” Voters know how to react when that is the message coming from Washington. I repeat my oft quoted phrase: the people are always ahead of the politicians. Neither party is immune just because it is in power today.