Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Thoughts on Senator Evan Bayh’s Op-Ed

Anyone that has been a long time reader of The Kentucky Democrat knows that I was one of the grassroots leaders of the Americans for Bayh movement. That’s why I did not just post excerpts for Senator Evan Bayh’s op-ed from last week's New York Times. I needed some time to actually sit down and think about what he said.

The Senator writes:
Many of our problems were foreseeable. A public unhappy about the economy will take it out on the party in power, even if the problems began under previous management. What’s more, when one party controls everything—the House, the Senate, the White House—disgruntled voters have only one target for their ire. And the president’s party almost always loses seats in midterm elections.

Nonetheless, recurring patterns of history, broad economic forces and the laws of politics don’t entirely account for the Democrats’ predicament. To a degree we are authors of our own misfortune, and we must chart a better path forward.

It is clear that Democrats over-interpreted our mandate. Talk of a “political realignment” and a “new progressive era” proved wishful thinking. Exit polls in 2008 showed that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as liberals, 32 percent as conservatives and 44 percent as moderates. An electorate that is 76 percent moderate to conservative was not crying out for a move to the left.
I think it is common sense by now that a bulk of the country considers themselves to be either center-left or center-right on the political spectrum. Of the 22% that self-identified as liberal, I am interested in knowing as to where in the spectrum they fit. It is a sad reality, though, that voters upset with the economy chose to take it out on the Democratic Party as opposed to the Republican Party, the ones that got us into the mess especially when they opted to cut tax for the wealthy—and extend said tax cuts when the country was involved with two wars. When was that ever a good idea?

The senator seems to think that the party focused too much on the legislation that focused on health care. Here’s the thing though: we have tried for years to reform the healthcare system but the GOP blocked it because they were too busy looking out for their friends holding executive positions in the insurance industry (sidenote: I have friends that do work for Humana and Congressman John Yarmuth did make sure they did not get the shaft when legislation was written).
We also overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession. It was a noble aspiration, but $1 trillion in new spending and a major entitlement expansion are best attempted when the Treasury is flush and the economy strong, hardly our situation today.
It should be noted that the new spending was to bailout the banks and automotive industry that needed it or they would have really dug a deeper hole in the American economy. That said, executives should have known not to reward their own self with a big bonus check at the hands of the taxpayers. Like AIG treating themselves to a corporate spa retreat our expense.

I have to applaud John Yarmuth for speaking up to Speaker Pelosi when he did. If he didn’t speak up, the banks wouldn’t have had to pay back the bailouts!

Bayh does note that Congress pandered to the party base and in doing so, voters did not seem to resonate with the issues with a weak economy. The funny thing about this is that Senator Joe Lieberman, often bashed by the liberal wing of the party, has been on the forefront of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Hell, he introduced the legislation in the Senate! Rational people believe it is time to repeal this. Why should anyone be in favor of discrimination when they know, deep down, it is wrong? Our soldiers are fighting for the liberty and freedoms that American citizens cherish but the gays and lesbians in the military are forced to lie to their fellow comrades just because of who they are.
During election season, Congress sought to placate those on the extreme left and motivate the base — but that meant that our final efforts before the election focused on trying to allow gays in the military, change our immigration system and repeal the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. These are legitimate issues but unlikely to resonate with moderate swing voters in a season of economic discontent.
Sorry, Senator Bayh, but this is one area where we will have to agree to disagree. I consider myself to be center-left in the political spectrum but aside from changing the immigration system, there should have been no problems with such legislation. Anyone that thinks gays and lesbians should not be allowed to serve openly is a bigot.

The immigration system and its eventual reform is a complex issue. On one hand, these people came into the country illegally and don’t even bother paying taxes. On the other hand, they are taking American jobs that Americans don’t want while being paid under the table. This is as bad as outsourcing our jobs to India. Another thing that further complicates things is that two consecutive administrations have decided to ignore requests from governors of the states that sit along the Mexican border when it comes to border patrol. This includes the Homeland Security Secretary being a former governor of Arizona!

The senator critiques the communications problem that the party has.
First, we have more than a communications problem — the public heard us but disagreed with our approach. Democrats need not reassess our goals for America, but we need to seriously rethink how to reach them.

Second, don’t blame the voters. They aren’t stupid or addled by fear. They are skeptical about government efficacy, worried about the deficit and angry that Democrats placed other priorities above their main concern: economic growth.
Senator, have you SEEN what is on FOX News? Start by watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Senator Bayh talks about tax reform.
good place to start would be tax reform. Get rates down to make American businesses globally competitive. Reward savings and investment. Simplify the code to reduce compliance costs and broaden the base. In 1986, this approach attracted bipartisan support and fostered growth.
The problem with this approach is that I seem to recall the message of the 1992 campaign being “It’s the economy, stupid!” Granted, I was only two in 1986...

Did I hear something about banning federal earmarks?!?
The stereotype of Democrats as wild-eyed spenders and taxers has been resurrected. To regain our political footing, we must prove to moderates that Democrats can make tough choices. Democrats should ban earmarks until the budget is balanced. The amount saved would be modest — but with ordinary Americans sacrificing so much, the symbolic power of politicians cutting their own perks is huge.
Senator, is that with or without repealing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? If that’s the case, I understand, but at the same time, some of these federal earmarks lead to jobs.

Speaking of jobs...
Democrats should support a freeze on federal hiring and pay increases. Government isn’t a privileged class and cannot be immune to the times.
Pay increases, I can understand. But wouldn’t a hiring freeze lead to current workers having to work overtime just to get work done? And less unemployed people getting federal jobs?

I wonder if there is some possible way to cooperate with the Republicans in Congress...
Democrats should also improve legislation already enacted. Health care reform, financial regulation and other initiatives were first attempts at solving complex problems, not holy writ. The administration’s grant of sensible exemptions to the health care bill, permitting some employers to offer only basic coverage, is an example of common-sense, results-oriented fine-tuning.

If President Obama and Congressional Democrats were to take these and other moderate steps on tax reform, deficit reduction and energy security, they would confront Republicans with a quandary: cooperate to make America more prosperous and financially stable, running the risk that the president would likely receive the credit, or obstruct what voters perceive as sensible solutions.
Do the Republicans really want to cooperate? Are you calling Mitch McConnell on his bluff? Is he kidding when he says he wants the president to go towards the far right?

Anything else, Senator?
I’m betting the president and his advisers understand much of this. If so, assuming the economy recovers, President Obama can win re-election; Democrats can set the stage for historic achievements in a second term. The extremes of both parties will be disappointed. But the vast center yearning for progress will applaud, and the country will benefit.
I hope so. I can’t stand the idea of another Republican president in 2012.

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