Sunday, February 18 , 2018, 10:52 am | A Few Clouds 58º


Mark Shields: Democrats ‘In Recovery’

The first step is to admit they have a serious problem and that they need to change

In December 2009, long before the recent voting in which Democrats would lose more seats in the House of Representatives than they had in any election since 1946, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., alerted his fellow Democrats of the insurmountable political problems they faced if the economy did not improve. Frank bluntly warned Democrats they could not campaign successfully on a slogan that somehow “things would have sucked worse” if our party had not been in power.

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

Democrats suffered a historic pasting on Nov. 2. But based upon too many e-mails and voicemails I have received, an awful lot of Democrats want to blame that defeat on the collective failure of yours truly and countless others in the media to educate American voters on the value and virtue of the policies of President Barack Obama and to expose the malicious obstructionism of Republicans out to sabotage the administration.

Not for the first time after an election defeat, some Democrats are rationalizing their party’s huge defeat through a form of self-delusion I call “Blame the Customer.” The election was not a rejection of our ideas or record or candidates, these Democrats explain away; instead it was the fault of these narrow-minded, misinformed, selfish, perhaps even intolerant individuals who took the time to vote.

The “Blame the Customer” postmortem requires of the Democrats who embrace it that they overlook 2008, when after Obama’s precedent-shattering victory, they and the media endlessly praised the maturity, generosity, decency and common sense of the nation’s voters.

If the Democrats are to recover from the 2010 drubbing, they must first admit that they have a serious problem and that they need to change. As those familiar with the often-miraculous 12-step program learn: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”

There is no upside, and major downside, to refighting yesterday’s battles. Obama’s campaign argument urging voters “not to go back” did not work. For one thing, even with all their shortcomings, the years under President George W. Bush never imposed 9.6 percent unemployment or new highs in the number of home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies.

Too often, in the wake of past losses, Democrats have spent enormous amounts of time, effort and good will in an intramural fight between the party’s Shirts and the Skins. The argument is always the same. We lost, the Skins say, because we weren’t true enough to the core values and positions of our party; we were too eager to trim and to concede. No, the Shirts answer, we failed to modernize, to adapt to changed realities and to adjust our policies to reach accommodation with the vitally important political middle.

Democrats can’t afford to indulge themselves with another civil war in the political leper colony. They must understand that, even with their differences, all of them still do have immeasurably more in common than any of them does with the two most prominent figures in the 2010 Republican campaign — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

Democrats can’t be afraid to draw real differences with Republicans. One of my favorite presidential quotes reads: “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could not exist if labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Those were the words of Republican Abraham Lincoln. If Democrats truly do honor work and those who earn their keep either with their hands or their heads, then how can they not fight tooth and toenail against Republican efforts to tax these working Americans while removing taxes on capital, the unearned income from interest and dividends?

To recover, Democrats must dare to live and to lead by the values of President Franklin Roosevelt, who said, “The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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