By Karen Finney, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Listen up, incumbents. Tuesday’s elections again demonstrated that you’d better have an answer to the question, “What have you done for me lately?” because all bets are officially off. Voters are again having their say and neither the political parties, nor the pundits, nor pollsters truly know just what will happen next. Despite pulling it out in the end, even Blanche Lincoln’s win, combined with the other results, reinforce the existence of a strong anti-incumbent, anti-establishment mood.
Tea Party candidates have demonstrated they can raise money and win in a GOP primary. Progressives have shown that they too can put up significant resources and mount serious challenges.
As we head into the general election, an already fractured Republican Party is moving farther and farther to the right as their candidates try to out-do one another in proving their right-wing street cred. It remains to be seen how the Tea Partyers will fare in the general elections; however, it would be a significant mistake for Democratic candidates to assume that running against them will be easy. Because it also remains to be seen whether or not Democrats can seize this opportunity to get off defense and regain the national discussion about the direction of our country, the changes we are facing, the role of government in our lives and the future we want for our kids.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, Democrats, and admit that the Republican message of distort, distract, and divide has been at the forefront of the national conversation for the last year. Without re-hashing the ugly details of the healthcare debate, we made a mess out of an issue on which a majority of Americans agree with our fundamental belief in affordable healthcare for every American. The only argument against reform that the GOP could come up with was to say "no." They didn’t put forward one single idea, and we didn’t call them on abdicating their role in government. So now Republican primary voters are holding the GOP establishment accountable. Just remember that in the general elections voters from both parties will hold all incumbents--including Democrats--accountable.
At a time like this, the good news is that Democrats actually have a good answer to the question. From California to Nevada to Kentucky, the GOP agenda will be to take away Americans’ healthcare benefits, privatize Social Security, and question the passage of the Civil Rights Act as an example of government overreach. Democrats have a strong case to make to our core Democratic Party voters and the voters in the middle who will play an important role in deciding the outcome of these elections--if we give them a reason to turn out. Democrats have kept their promises and have begun to move America in a new direction--from affordable healthcare, to cutting taxes for the middle class, to a change in policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, to ending the reckless Bush policies that destroyed our economy and a regulatory framework that protects the food we eat, oil drilling, and Americans working in the mines of West Virginia. While Bush pushed through the bank bailouts that have most Americans fuming, President Obama and Democrats passed a stimulus bill that has created and saved millions of American jobs.
Ironically, it's the very same conventional wisdom that voters are rebelling against which suggests that this should be a bad year for Democrats and a good year for Republicans. And the logic goes that in an anti-incumbent year, just based on the numbers, the party in the majority is at a disadvantage. But we have an answer--we've done a lot lately and have much more to do. Americans voted twice for a progressive agenda, overwhelmingly so for President Obama. Rather than be apologists for our agenda, we need to stand up and make our case.