Voters in 2006 and 2008 spoke with a thunderclap demanding change. They elected a Democratic president with huge popularity and a Democratic Congress with huge majorities.
At the Inaugural in January 2009 (doesn’t it seem a decade ago?), Democrats began one of those golden moments that comes once in a generation. They had a highly popular new president and the seats in Congress to pass a program with the support of a grateful and hopeful nation.
Now: From both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Democrats are blowing their golden moment. If they can’t move the nation with huge majorities in Congress, what if they lose seats in 2010?
Well before the 2009 elections, I repeatedly warned of growing depression among workers, small donors and voters who fought their hearts out to elect a Democratic Congress and president who campaigned with banners that read “Change we can believe in.” Accepting his nomination, the president said great change only comes when large masses of people rise up.
Now the president greets news of real unemployment over 17 percent with hugs in the White House. Democrats have been obsessed for the entire year with an unpopular healthcare bill while doing nothing to create jobs, while the Senate destroys a popular public option that would lower the deficit everyone claims to want reduced.
Democrats around the nation despair. The great uprising in Washington is not voters achieving change but lobbyists and campaign donors destroying it.
2008 brought a historic surge of Democratic voters and small donors in state after state.
A tidal wave of young people and new voters joined the political process for the first time. African-Americans and women surged with passion at the polls and voted in record numbers. Liberals and independents voted en masse for an era of reform. White working-class voters stood with Democrats because they hungered for more jobs, a better life and an end to bankers and Wall Street acting like lords of the manor at their expense.
November 2008 brought a massive and sweeping Democratic victory and a powerful mandate for dramatic change.
2009 began with talk of a long-term realignment of American politics behind a solid Democratic majority, and ends with debate about whether Democrats will suffer a catastrophic defeat in 2010. Grassroots Americans who surged to work for change and sacrificed family dinners to make small donations to Democrats now stay home with resignation and shake their heads with sadness.
There is a weird symmetry between the president receiving a Nobel Prize for doing nothing and his journey to the Senate last weekend, saying nothing.
Politicians can host job summits that don’t create jobs, but at the end of the day, the real jobless rate remains over 17 percent.
Politicians can pass credit card bills that promise to end abuses, while abuses are greater than ever. They can make deals to lower drug costs, while companies raise drug prices by 9.5 percent. They can offer bills that will let insurance premiums rise, when voters want premiums to fall.
Whom do they fool?
Politicians can offer public options that aren’t public options, promise Afghanistan deadlines that aren’t deadlines, promise banking reforms that don’t reform banking, promise to end Wall Street speculation that continues unabated, promise to restrict despised bonuses that are now larger than ever and say that banks should not be too big to fail, while taxpayers pay to make them bigger. Whom do they fool?
Democrats are blowing one of the great golden moments in political history, the kind that comes once in a generation.
If Democrats act in 2010 as they act in 2009, they will suffer an almost biblical exodus of voters who stay home in a mirror-image destruction of the explosion of activism, idealism and engagement that brought them to power.
It is not too late, but time is running short. If the golden moment is lost and gone forever, Democrats will have only themselves to blame.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.