Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Coakley and How We Don't Do That Again

We lost Teddy's seat to a teabagger. 


Let me repeat that:  we just lost EDWARD KENNEDY'S SENATE SEAT to a rightwing nutter. 


George McGovern could lose every other state to Richard Nixon - and still win Massachusetts.  Walter Mondale could lose in a landslide to Ronald Reagan - and still win Massachusetts.  Just when I think my Democratic Party can't screw things up for themselves any worse, they go and prove me wrong.

I'm not going to blame this on sneaky Republicanism, their lies or Fox or Rush or Glenn or anybody else we normally go after.  I congratulate them, in fact - they knew what they were about and weren't afraid to go after it.  It worked, they won.  I'm not even going to blame Martha Coakley, even with her awful campaign - she'll serve just as well for a model of what we Democrats have become.

We Democrats just got shot down to earth - me included.  We were so SURE that since we so soundly routed the Bush minions out of power in Washington, they'd never find their way out of the political wilderness.  We were so SURE that we'd destroyed the conservative movement and the Republicans so well that we'd convinced ourselves that we'd never see them come back.  In fact, in our convictions that our 2006 and 2008 victories were so solid, some of us thought it's so safe for us that we can even go after our own President without consequence.  I'm just as guilty here - just look at some of my earlier posts...not so much the going after Obama part though.

OK, we lost a couple of governors but we won two House special elections we were supposed to lose so it was a push.  We even got a watered down but better than nothing Health Care bill through both houses of Congress.  Victory was ours and we thought it'd stay that way for a long time. 

Then tonight happened.  If it was any other open Senate seat in any other state, we could shrug it off as a "well, we can't win 'em all" thing.  This one was special to us - it was the Senate seat of the deceased Lion of the Senate, the last fighting Liberal from a reliably liberal state who had faithfully sent their Teddy back to the Senate for around 30 years even after Chappaquidick.  And we lost it.

OK, we still have control of Congress and the White House.  It's a 59 seat majority in the Senate now instead of 60.  Painful but not the end of the world.  


It's an obstacle that can be overcome, but it's far from small.  If this were even as recently as the Clinton era, I wouldn't be so concerned.  The Republicans hated him then just as much as they hate Obama now - and for the same reason, they won - but back then at least not all of the Republican Party was willing to scuttle the country for partisan gain.  A few even voted with Clinton from time to time.  The Democrats didn't go there either when Dubya was in - maybe a few filibusters against some nominees to be judges, but enough Democrats went along with George that 51 Republicans in the Senate was plenty.

Make no mistake about it, those days are gone.  Except for one lone Republican in the House who got called a commie and a gook by his own party for doing it, there was virtually no Republican votes for health care reform.  Just that one Republican guy in the House, not a single Republican vote in the Senate even from the "moderates."  59 votes in the Senate would be enough usually, but not when you have a Republican Party who is going to filibuster EVERYTHING and you need 60 votes just to pass the Defense Bill.

The bright spot in this is, first - the Massachusetts Republican winner this evening is only in for 2 years.  He has to run again in 2012.  Second, there is still time for the Democrats to treat this election as the wake up call it is and turn it around in time for November. 

Some suggestions on how to do that:  stop still acting like a battered wife protecting an abusive husband when it comes to the conservatives.  We Democrats still are in control and it's past time we started acting like it.  The righties have shown us what they consider to be "bipartisan" - to them it means do it their way then vote against it anyway.  Fine.  We're fair people.  We should give them one chance to participate in the process and if they refuse, then we do it without them.  That's not quite as easily done now as it was just last Monday, but there are ways.

MAJOR change - we start changing the way we talk about our issues, in fact we take the right's methods and verbiage and turn it right back on them.  Does that mean we start lying about everything like they do?  No, we still can fight with real facts and real information but we do it differently.

We on the left talk about our issues as something beyond ourselves - health care is good for the people who need help and is good for the country, as an example.  That comes from our world view of politics - we don't act solely out of self interest and our vision goes further than our front door.  Our views can stay the same but we'll never beat the right with that approach.  One thing they do well is that they make their positions personal - for themselves and who they are speaking to.

George Lakoff is a linguistics professor who wrote a book for the 2004 election entitled Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.  It was a sort of primer version of a longer book, but the idea was that you don't win debates and elections by using the terms of your opponent.  An example of that is, as a Democrat, when discussing tax issues you should not use the term "Tax relief."  The word "relief" implies that taxes are an insufferable burden that needs to be relieved - a bad way to say it if you are arguing against, say, the Bush across the board tax cuts.  He suggests, if you are taking the anti side of a tax cut debate, calling them "service cuts."  This he calls "framing" - your use of language frames the debate in your favor.

His theory is a good start but we have to make that extra step - change it from global to personal.  Using the health care reform debate as an example again, we state our position in terms of community, country and world.  The right shoots it down by saying to the audience, "Do YOU want to pay more taxes and pay for somebody else's insurance to do this?"  Then follow that up with outlandish claims and name calling spoken clearly and forcefully.  We fluster and bluster, but that argument hits home faster than any argument about millions uninsured - count on it.

We need to come back, with facts, just as forcefully and right in their faces - just like they do to us - and make it personal to our audience as well.  No Senator - the word you're looking for isn't "misleading", it's a LIE.  Speak plainly and make them defend that lie - don't go all nuance-y and "suggest it might not be entirely true."  Florid language goes directly in one ear and out the other - say the other guy is lying his ass offThat they get.

Then, when you talk about your ideas, don't talk about the country.  Trust me, the guy and/or gal in the audience with sick kids and no health insurance isn't sitting in Oregon worried about millions of people or folk in Ohio - they want to know how what you are proposing is going to help them.  TELL THEM.  No 'we' or 'us', here's how I plan on helping you.  Say, "I don't want you or your family to get so sick that the only place you can go is an emergency room, I'm going to help see to it that you can all go to the doctor well before that!"

Harry Truman said the way to win elections is to take the battle to your opponent and never apologize.  He also said that if peoples' choice is between a Democrat acting like a Republican or a Republican, the Republican wins every time. 

We lost it for Teddy this time.  Let's not do that again.

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