The Scott Brown Lesson for Democrats: Recapture Change

Obama can start by firing Geithner

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Brad Bannon is president of Bannon Communications Research a Massachusetts-based political polling and consulting firm that works with Democratic candidates, labor unions and progressive interest groups.

BOSTON--The brownout in Bean town yesterday was a disaster for Democrats and party leaders shouldn't pretend otherwise.

Whenever a catastrophe like this occurs, there's plenty of blame to spread around. Martha Coakley's campaign was not nearly as effective as Scott Brown's. The White House failed to present an agenda to energize the grassroots and netroot activists in the Bay State. And an unpopular Democratic governor and state legislature fouled the political environment.

Even before the polls closed yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and Coakley strategist Celinda Lake were busy pointing fingers at each other. If Democrats had been this aggressive in Massachusetts, Coakley would have won and there wouldn't be any reason for us to argue.

Republicans will enjoy the Democratic infighting almost as much as they exalted in Scott Brown's upset victory. My message to my fellow Democrats is get over it and look forward and not backward. There is a silver ling behind every dark cloud. The good news is the defeat occurred 10 months before the mid term elections, so Democrats have plenty of time to learn a few lessons, straighten up and fly right.

The first lesson is the importance of the economy. A lot of the election night commentary on the Democratic defeat focused on the prospects of healthcare reform. This preoccupation with healthcare is part of the Democratic problem. Voters are screaming about jobs but Democrats are whining about healthcare. The failure of Democrats to listen to people and the party's unwillingness to take on Wall Street have produced the populist rage that ate up Martha Coakley.

I'm an FDR Democrat and the long period of Democratic dominance from the '30s through the '60s was built on jobs. When voters worried about jobs they reached out for Democratic candidates like security blankets. Voters now wonder, if the Democrats can't produce jobs, what good are they?

Fortunately, Republicans have the same problem with a different issue. The foundation of the long period of GOP hegemony that ended this decade was fiscal responsibility. When voters realized that the two Bushes had accumulated federal budget deficits larger than all their Democratic predecessors combined, Republicans became cannon fodder in 2006 and 2008.

The next thing that Democrats should do is put the Who song, "Won't Be Fooled Again" on their IPods. One line in the song, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" captures public disenchantment with Democratic leadership in Washington. Voters want change which is why they supported Democrats in 2006 and 2008 and have been voting for the GOP since then.

Barack Obama is president because he promised voters change. Candidate Obama was single minded about using the change message which is why he won the election. In his last debate with John McCain, the Democratic candidate used the "c word" 11 times. Even Joe Biden got the memo. In his convention speech accepting the Democratic nomination for Vice President, Senator Biden said "change" 20 times. But in his inaugural address, president Obama only said "change" twice.

Now Democrats must deliver. We have to give Americans something fundamentally different than they got before. The president should shake up his economic team and begin by firing Wall Street insider Tim Geithner and replace him with a populist like Robert Reich. Then the president should propose another round of economic stimulus before it is too late for it to do any good this year. If a new round of stimulus produces jobs, voters won't care how much money it cost. Then Congressional Democrats should produce a robust financial reform package that cracks down on Wall Street and demonstrates to the public that Democrats can be tough on the special interests that created the economic mess.