In the words of President Obama, the Democrat Party took a "shellacking" on Election Day. Congressional Republicans picked up at least 60 seats in the House, regaining control of the chamber. They took at least six seats in the Senate, though not enough to take control from the Democrats.
I eagerly anticipated the President's first press conference. I wanted to hear his take on the election and to hear what he had to say about how Democrats with the help of their progressive allies would move forward. I was hoping that he would stand up, dust himself off, and recommit to the vision he had when he won the White House.
I was wrong.
Instead, Obama was somber and sounded beaten rather than emboldened by the Republican's triumphant return to power. Rather than say he was ready to fight, the President said that he had been humbled by the election results. He sounded contrite, almost apologetic for the past two years. He even agreed with a claim made by Tea Party activists that he is out of touch with the American people, saying it was a consequence of living in the "White House bubble."
During the press conference, the President expressed his desire to sit down with Republican leaders in the House and Senate, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, and their Democratic counterparts to figure out a way to work together. "I have been willing to compromise in the past and I am willing to compromise going forward," he said.
Meanwhile at a press conference at the Capital, the future Speaker of the House did not sound like a man ready to find common ground with the President. Regarding the President's signature program, Boehner said, "The American people have concerns about government takeover of healthcare. I think it's important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity."
My fear is that the President and much of the Democratic leadership in the Congress will interpret this election as a rebuke and move that Party even further to the right away from Progressives like myself in an attempt to "reclaim the center."
Senator–Elect, Richard Blumenthal, of one of the nation's bluest of blue states, Connecticut, summed up my worst nightmare in his first press conference: "People in Connecticut and across the country want their representatives to reach across the aisle and find common ground,'' said Blumenthal. "There are no Democratic or Republican solutions to these economic problems, there are simply good, common-sense pragmatic solutions,'' he added.
Hey Senator-Elect, what are you talking about? With only one exception, the entire Connecticut Congressional delegation is held by the Democrats (the Independent Senator caucuses with the Democrats). The Governor-Elect is a Democrat. The Democrats hold a majority in the state legislature. All of the state-wide elected officials are Democrats.
Of course, the Republicans in Congress and their Tea Party allies do not share Blumenthal's enthusiasm for bipartisanship.
A quick glance into the past should give us a glimpse of what the future may hold for President Obama and Democrats in Congress.
After winning control of Congress in 1994, the Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton, refused to confirm many of his judges, shut down the government, refused to listen to him on climate change, blocked his efforts to save Social Security, and pushed draconian welfare reform and crime bills through Congress.
The incoming Congressional Republican leadership is even more partisan, more mean-spirited, and more extreme than the Republican leadership that took the House in 1994.
Part of the problem is that they are beholden to a base that has some really wacky ideas about the President. According to a Gallup poll taken earlier this year, the hatred of Obama runs deep among the rank-and-file Republican voters: 67 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a socialist; 57 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim; 45 percent of Republicans agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president;" 38 percent of Republicans say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did;" and most frightening, 24 percent of Republicans say that Obama "may be the Antichrist."
Yeah, that is not a typo; roughly a quarter of Republicans think the President of the United States may be the Antichrist?
Republican leaders are not bashful about their disdain for Obama and his policies nor are they bashful about their desire to run him out of office. In an interview with National Journal magazine last month, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that his party's top priority in the new Congress would be to make sure that Obama is a one-term president.
With each passing day, McConnell has become even more emboldened about evicting the Obama's from the "big white house" at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. In a speech before the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, he said, "If our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won't veto any of these things."
Clearly, Congressional Republicans have little or no interest in compromising with the President or reaching consensus with their Democratic colleagues across the aisle.
America deserves an alternative to the neo-liberal policies of the Congressional Republican Party and the pathological hatred of the President by their Tea Party allies.
Congressional Democrats need to step up to the plate. They need to mobilize their base to fight for progressive alternatives to the Congressional Republican agenda.
I have been reading Chantal Mouffe's book "On the Political (Thinking in Action)." She provides an important insight about politics and voting that Democrats and their allies need to understand:
"Mobilization requires politicization, but politicization cannot exist without the production of a conflictual representation of the world, with opposed camps with which people can identify. ... what moves people to vote is much more than simply the defense of their interests. ... Political discourse needs to offer not only policies but also identities which can help people make sense of what they are experiencing as well as giving them hope for the future."
The Tea Party gave people an identity and a cause. Democrats and their progressive allies need to give people a reason to vote so that their passions can be mobilized for politics.
Enough with this post-political vision, a refusal to acknowledge that Congressional Republicans and their Tea Party allies have declared war on everything Democrats and progressive have been fighting for during the past two years.
Congressional Democrats need to heed the words of Jim Hightower, "there's nothing is in the middle of the road but dead Armadillos."