Look, fellow Democrats, I'm as disgusted as you are with the general wrongness of things at the moment: the congressional gridlock and partisan polarization going on for years now; the growing capacity of money to get the politics it wants; the growing evidence of government not working -- the Secret Service not serving the president, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not preventing the Ebola virus from entering the U.S., to take two stellar failures further eroding our trust in public institutions. And you are disappointed that the Candidate of Change, now in the White House and on whom you pinned your brightest hopes, seemingly hasn't effected much change.
But, really: How does not voting in the coming midterm elections put things right?
For that matter, how does it put things right to swear off forevermore all politics, a threat heard from Democrats across the land?
For months now, the media has retailed the story of Republican zeal and Democratic malaise as the midterms approach. Indeed, polls show that, with zeal trumping malaise, in addition to retaining control of the House, Republicans may take over the Senate too.
Yet the specter of a Congress entirely GOP-controlled has yet to impinge on the Democratic voter. What does GOP control mean? It means Republicans will be in an even stronger position to hack away at their favorite legislative piñata, Obamacare. And it means that more of the social safety net so prized by Democrats since FDR's New Deal will be hacked away, too.
In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explicitly promises as much. In a private strategy session of Republican big-money donors hosted by the Koch brothers, McConnell, echoing Mitt Romney's 47 percent remark, crowed that when the GOP retakes the Senate:
"We're not going to be debating all these gosh-darn proposals ... All we do in the Senate [now] is vote on things like raising the minimum wage...extending unemployment ... The student loan package the other day, that's just going to make things worse ... These people believe in all the wrong things."
The heartlessness! The Republicans broke the economy in the Bush administration, but won't pass legislation to help all the suffering Americans hurt by the economy that they, the Republicans, broke? Yet they keep pushing tax cuts for the rich and resisting regulation of the financial industry that, unreformed, will break us all over again? In addition to "going after them" on financial services, McConnell promises to attack Democrats "on healthcare ... the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board."
If you thought politics was "disgusting" now, how about that prospect?
With this profoundly anti-Main Street agenda, how can Republicans be in such favor with Main Street going into the midterms? How have they achieved the phenomenon described in the popular book, What's the Matter with Kansas? -- the neat trick of persuading people to vote against their own best interests?
How? Because: 1) Democrats, even when they win elections, don't keep control of the post-election narrative, as victors rightly do. Democrats gear up late to fight, then fade soon after Election Day; 2) Democrats don't dispute or push back at erroneous charges or policy misrepresentations from their opponents, but they let those charges and misrepresentations stand, creating a body of false lore that's used against them in the next election, putting Democrats eternally on the back foot; and 3) Democrats don't defend their leader, the president, or even each other.
All of which the relentless Republicans do much, much better.
What else but Democratic laxity explains how Republicans have convinced much of the public it was Mr. Obama, not Mr. Bush, who broke the economy? That Obamacare is a total disaster, when, though the rollout was disastrous, Obamacare now insures millions of previously uncovered Americans while also, counter to Republican claims, bringing down healthcare costs? How else explain most Americans don't know that Mr. Obama has reduced the deficit, which deficit Republicans hammer Democrats for but which they added to hugely with their war in Iraq, a war they put on credit card? That Mr. Obama has brought unemployment down, with little help in jobs bills from Republicans?
The real question is: What's the matter with Democrats? Why can't Democratic politicians control their narrative? Why, in the present campaign, do they run from their achievements like Obamacare? Why can't they, you know, fight? Is it something about feeling unworthy to rule? Republicans feel no such reservation. Weirdly, Republicans rail against government yet can't bear anyone but themselves at government's helm, while Democrats believe devoutly in government but seem uncomfortable with the demands and mechanics of rule.
Personally, I'm most disappointed in the Democrats who abandoned Mr. Obama early and on flimsy grounds -- for one, that he didn't change our nasty politics and deliver us forthwith unto sweetness and light. Really? He was supposed to do this alone? This was a joint venture, as he warned in his stern first Inaugural Address. Change takes time and work -- from us. And where are his defenders swatting back at the hysterics in the GOP tagging him as "President Ebola"? Good place to start is to note that Congress over the last 10 years has made steep funding cuts to the National Institutes of Health. And the "leading from behind" charges: Mr. Obama is trying to lead the U.S. out of the Middle East, which is what most Americans want, Democrat and Republican alike, so why do we let those charges stand? And where's the pride that Mr. Obama saved the automobile industry, a quintessential American industry, that's now thriving?
It's notable that the recent much-touted article by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman making the case for Barack Obama as a transformational president is titled "In Defense of Obama" [italics mine]. In time, though certainly not now, Mr. Obama will be seen as a savior, a firewall: He saved us from further Republican destruction and he achieved great things (e.g., healthcare reform) despite ferocious, even treasonous GOP obstructionism.
I guarantee: If Democrats had fought harder for their policies and their president these past years, they would not find the present politics so "disgusting."
Likewise, if Democrats pushed back harder at GOP fear-mongering and hysteria, there'd be less of that toxic brew churning our politics at present.
Democrats have yet to learn how much fun it is to fight, to take action. Fighting -- especially fighting the good fight such as ours -- is not grim, it's liberating. Malaise is grim.
I confess, I am bewildered at the power of Republican zeal and the lack of it in Democrats. Republicans have proved wrong, wrong, wrong about so much -- the broken economy, the unnecessary war in Iraq that, despite their denials, stirred up the Sunni-Shia hatreds now tearing the Middle East apart and that plunged America into the truly disgusting and shameful practice of torture, which some Republicans still support. And when they're not wrong, they're hypocritical: The party of "family values" hurts so many families economically. Meanwhile, the Democratic agenda is far more humane while also pragmatic, yet where's the zeal? Is Republican zeal a compensation for their guilt?
But enough pondering. We have an election to win, we need to get Democrats to the polls. There's much work to be done in Mr. Obama's final two years: immigration and tax reform, climate change, making government work again. He needs a Democratic Senate.
To get Democrats to vote, I could lay on a guilt trip and invoke our ancestors, from the colonists onward, and what they endured to ensure the vote, compared to which our present disgust is a puny thing. I could invoke the hard-working party volunteers who, to compensate for their indifferent Democratic cohorts, are tripling-down on their efforts to get those Democrats off their couches and into the voting booths. I could note that in those states where voters don't even need to travel to a voting booth but receive their ballots by mail, yet still don't vote: Sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I could note everyone I've ever known who sat out an election in protest later regretted it.
I could also note that, if your skull still hurts from all the Republican haranguing about Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi: Should the Republicans regain the Senate and keep the House, there'll be twice as many hearings coming up on that tired subject. Talk about disgusting!
Just vote, Democrats, OK? Then post-election, chase away those feelings of disgust by recommitting. Politics is a long and necessary game.
[Disclosure: My husband Larry Seaquist is a politician, a Democrat, and is running for re-election to the Washington state legislature.]
Carla Seaquist's forthcoming book of commentary, Can America Save Itself from Decline?: Politics, Culture, Morality, is out soon. Her earlier book, Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character, came out in 2009. Also a playwright, she published Two Plays of Life and Death, which include "Who Cares?: The Washington-Sarajevo Talks" and "Kate and Kafka," and is working on a play titled Prodigal.