Dems, listen to your base

If there’s one thing that unites Republican, Democratic and political media establishments, it’s the notion that primary challenges are bad. So Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch (D) played true to form when he whined to The Hill’s Ballot Box about progressive challenges to Democratic incumbents in 2010.

“There was a lot of money spent against Democrats by Democrats,” Lynch said. “That contributed to the scale of our losses.”

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He added: “I think if we had avoided that, we would have saved, maybe, six or eight more seats. I don’t think it would have stopped the overall result, but maybe six or eight seats” could’ve been saved.

You know what really might’ve saved Democrats in 2010? Passing good laws. Yet on issue after issue, corporatist Democrats teamed up with Republicans to stymie popular legislation.

During the healthcare debate, a public health insurance option that would compete against private insurers received consistent majority support from voters in polls. Corporatist Democrats and their Republican allies killed the idea, leading to the odious private insurance mandate. How’d that work out for Democrats in 2010?

All throughout 2010, Democrats refused to push repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy excluding homosexuals from serving openly in the armed forces — an issue that polled in the 70th percentile among all Americans. 

Afraid to do what was popular, Democrats alienated their gay base and failed to notch a popular accomplishment in their belt. Ironically, Democrats repealed the ban in the post-election lame-duck session, without taking a hit to their standing with voters.

Of course, if the Democratic-controlled Congress did what was popular, comprehensive immigration reform would have been passed and signed into law last year. A reform package that legalizes only those undocumented immigrants who learn English, pay a fine, and have a clean criminal record polls off the charts. 

For example, a Public Policy Polling survey for Daily Kos in early January found that 68 percent of Americans supported such a plan. In fact, the strongest support for immigration reform came from Republicans, who favored the legislation 81 percent to 15 percent.

But Democrats failed to deliver. As a result, Latinos dropped to 8 percent of the total number of voters, down from 9 percent in 2008 — despite being a larger percentage of the total eligible voter pool. In the few places they turned out — such as Nevada’s Senate race, where Democrat Harry Reid cast himself as a champion of reform — Latinos helped endangered Democrats survive. Everywhere else, it cost Democrats.

Latinos weren’t the only core Democratic constituency too depressed by the Democrats’ governance to turn out. Young voters were 18 percent of the electorate in 2008, but just 11 percent in 2010. Even by off-year standards, that turnout was woeful. In 2006, the youth represented 13 percent of all voters. African-Americans went from 13 percent of the electorate in 2008 to 10 percent in 2010. Union households, frustrated by the failure to push for labor-law reform, went from 23 percent of total voters in 2006 to 21 percent in 2008, to 17 percent in 2010.

Democrats can choose to continue selling out to corporatist interests and risk another 2010, or they can start behaving like Democrats. Doing the latter has double benefits: Not only is it more popular with voters, but also it’ll spare them the agony of primary challenges. 

In other words, if Rep. Lynch wants to see those primary challenges end, he can start by not taking calls from his corporate benefactors.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos.