Dems shouldn’t rest on laurels

Jonathan Reed

There are two ways to lose. In our culture, one way is immortalized. The other is vilified.

One way is to go down swinging. The idea of valor in defeat is everywhere in American culture. In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch defines courage as “knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” We don’t just idolize our winners. We idolize those who lose the right way.

The other way to lose is knowing you’re licked before you begin and giving up. The Democrats in Washington seem to prefer that one.

Despite the constant claims that Obama is a socialist, fascist, Nazi, anti-Christ or whatever, Obama can’t get a government-run health care option through Congress. He and his fellow Democrats couldn’t even push a weak healthcare bill through without bribing the entire state of Nebraska.

So, they’ve accepted mediocrity. That’s fine … if you fought hard enough.

They haven’t fought hard enough, though. It’s evident in the media coverage. We all know that Fox News commentators makes a living attacking the Obama administration, playing the role that MSNBC and other left-wing outlets played during the Bush era. The problem is that the left – both in the media and in Washington – seems content to sit back and just try to refute the claims by the right. The angle isn’t “this is good.” It’s “this isn’t as bad as they say.”

When the issue of the public option came up, the attacks quickly followed: It would be inefficient. The government would dictate your health care. The government would pull the plug on grandma. All sorts of things.

So the left responded and waited for the next attack.

Where was the campaign spirit? Where were the press releases, the advertisements, the op-eds, the speeches saying how this would help us? Democrats didn’t seem to go on the offensive much.

They were like a football team playing conservatively with a lead: Run out the clock and put it on your defense. Sure, they got a few stops, a turnover or two, but they weren’t sticking to what got them where they were. The conservatives came back. They started to put it together, to find the holes in the liberals’ arguments. Meanwhile the liberals hadn’t done a thing.

What does the Obama administration have to brag about? Unemployment is still in the double digits, consumer confidence is terrifyingly low, and while spending was up over last holiday season, it wasn’t by much. Obama’s approval rating is below 50 percent.

Democrats have less faith in Congress than Republicans (16 percent as opposed to 20 percent, according to Gallup). When your opponents like you better than your constituents, you’re doing it wrong.

It makes sense, though. Why should Democrats support Congress when Congress is being dictated to by the Republicans? If there’s one thing Democrats have made clear, it’s that Obama and his administration are not in the driver’s seat. They’re coasting on the successes of an election they won by being the party of Not Bush. If the Democrats want to do anything, they need to start fighting.

The Republicans want to filibuster your public option? Let them. In the meantime, tell the public about how good a public option would be. Don’t just tell them that the government wouldn’t pull the plug on grandma. Rather, tell them that a public option would make it less expensive for grandma because it would keep private health care companies honest. Don’t just say that it wouldn’t be inefficient, bur tell them that it would be more efficient because it doesn’t have to deal with the bureaucracy of profit-hungry execs (oh, and remind them that if they don’t like it they don’t have to have it). Don’t just tell them that it isn’t socialism. Instead, ask them how much they enjoy the “free” market they have now. Ask them how they like choosing between the monopoly your boss likes and, uh…

And when they complain about the delay caused by the filibuster, point out that the Republicans are the ones blocking their electoral mandate and that maybe we should have some liberals in those red seats.

Democrats haven’t been asking the questions. They haven’t been pushing the Republicans. They haven’t been going down swinging.

In politics, you’re always licked before you begin. In four, eight, 12 years, the other party is going to take over. It’s just a matter of whether you saw it through no matter what, or if you tucked your tail between your legs and limped off into the sunset.

Jonathan Reed is a sophomore majoring in political science and journalism. His column runs on Thursdays.