"Yes we can" becomes "no we can't."
The ‘Hopey, Changey thing’ took a big hit this week. I spent part of U.S. election night in the ballroom at the Riviera Hotel in Palm Springs where the Coachella Democrat clubs held their ‘victory’ celebration.
At least in California Democrats had something to cheer about. Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown defeated the new media mogul twins Meg Whitman and Carla Fiorina. So the groans were more muted at the Riviera.
Elsewhere, it was an unmitigated disaster for the Democrats and Obama. They lost almost every marginal seat won two years ago. They lost traditional Democratic seats like Feingold’s in Wisconsin. They lost governorships in key swing states like Florida and Ohio.
They almost lost it all until Harry Reid in Nevada and Manchin in West Virginia pulled out wins that mean the Democrats still hold the Senate. But the Democrats appear hamstrung agenda-wise with the President’s room reduced to foreign affairs, his legislative veto and the bully pit.
What was this thrashing all about?
Easy. Yesterday, I pulled out of Ralph’s parking lot after getting a jug of milk. Standing at the exit was a middle aged Latino guy with a sign begging for work or money. It’s a common sight down here. Picking up a paper, it’s hard to miss the 30 or 40 pages of foreclosure notices filling the classifieds. And then there’s the unemployment rate: nearing 19% in the valley.
This place is an economic disaster and hope has given away to fear and anger. In California, much of it is directed at the Shwarzenneger administration, hence the decent night for Democrats.
Elsewhere, it was Obama and the Democrats who carried the can. Nobody cares or even knows that they stopped the bleeding. Nobody cares that at least they have a plan for recovery. A plan’s no substitute for a job or a house.
People are just mad. And the Republican strategy has been brilliant. All they’ve done is pour fuel on the fire. They have a strong message and a cohesive strategy to obstruct and drive the anger. Otherwise they’ve stayed out of the way - no proposals, no real policy, certainly no plan that can be scrutinized.
Add to that all the money that third party groups poured into attack ads and you have a maelstrom of electoral destruction.
Compare that with the Democrats who have nothing except a grab bag of policy. For a year and a half there’s been no cohesion and no message. It’s the weak party system at its weakest, just when they needed to be strong.
I don’t hold out a lot of hope for a big turnaround. The economic news isn’t picking up. And the new political make-up of the Congress and Senate means little legislative movement in the near future.
Listening to the Democrats in the ballroom last night I got a sense that there was a lot of 'blame the media' and 'blame the people' but little appetite for 'blame ourselves'. That’s too bad because they need to change their strategy.
If the Democrats - in the next two years - can’t start telling a single, compelling story that shows movement from hope to jobs, this will be just the first round of the reckoning.