I am bone-weary and hugely relieved at the outcome of the 2012 election. Some keep asking how a Republican Party so devoid of ideas could mount such a strong Presidential challenge and maintain control of the House. Beyond the simple answer; “It’s the economy, stupid”, something deeper is at work. The deeper issues warrant serious thought and immediate action.
My son, Max, is a brilliant out-of the box thinker who has always marched to his own beat. He is 29 and thoroughly disillusioned with our political system. Despite my service as a Democratic United States Congressman, or perhaps because of it, he sees no difference between the two major parties. On election day, he cast a reluctant vote for Barack Obama.
My Sister-in-law, Trisha is a conservative home-maker who lives in Virginia. She leans strongly Republican, grieves over what she perceives as her loss of any real voice in our political system. I have no doubt that she cast her vote for Mitt Romney.
I am a determined Democrat. I first ran for office in 2004 to try to change the direction of the country which I saw as controlled by ideologues, embroiled in an unnecessary war and headed for damaging deficits generated by fiscally irresponsible tax and economic policies. Having served as a member of the House I developed new respect for the institutions of our democracy. And, from my own experience, I think I have a good idea of why both Max and Trisha are disillusioned.
Our democracy is challenged by the pervasive influence of power brokers and corporate kingdoms which both overtly and covertly seem to hold policy-makers in their thrall. Whether through outsized campaign contributions and spending or playing the inside game in Washington; their influence is undeniable. A central challenge of any political institution, and especially for my beloved Democratic former colleagues, is to accept the challenge of change wholeheartedly. Real change takes commitment and persistence. It takes brutal honesty and probably some discomfort. I hope that leaders in both the House and the Senate are up to the task.
For example, in the Senate, filibuster rules must be changed. In the House, the antiquated seniority system is an impediment to progress. Looking outside the institutions, promoting change in our campaign finance system and, taking aim at influence peddling are fundamental to the future electoral success of the Democratic Party and the country.
The President’s narrow popular vote margin should give Democrats real pause. We re-elected a President but could not achieve a mandate for a unified Government. The President is personally popular. I’m not at all sure that Democrats generally can bask in the same glow. Democrats see the differences between the parties clearly. But, at least half of the America which votes either don’t get what we’re about or believe the brand the Republicans have foisted upon us: we’re the party of high taxes and hand-outs.
The antidote is fundamental re-examination and refocusing. We must adopt, pursue communicate and message a progressive agenda for economic growth as the focus of our Party: Education, Innovation and Infrastructure. With a consistent focus and the right messaging we can create a more solid foundation for electoral success over the long haul. Without refocusing and “rebranding”, we will continue to struggle to convince Americans that we can be trusted to govern a dynamic and diverse country in a new century.
The Economic Innovation Action Fund works to focus and rebrand current Democratic issues into clear and potent message about a core economic agenda for growth and innovation consistent with progressive values. Join us as www.economicinnovationinstitute.org.