By Seth Jacobson
On election night in 2010, I was sitting in a Washington D.C. hotel with fellow Obama staffers musing about what was theoretically the end of the Obama presidency. Just two years earlier, with great excitement and fanfare, a new president had come to town, with hope, change and opportunity written everywhere. Just two years later—what a difference two years can make. And now we stand in what is likely a worse situation, just two years into another Democratic administration on the precipice of what will likely be a very bad night for Democrats. It seems that Democrats have not learned their lesson. What is that lesson? Take a page out of the Republican playbook, play the long game, and stay focused, with a clear, simple and positive message for Americans.
We should be prepared for the worst, and hope for a split decision. Unfortunately, I think we should also plan for the worst and on November 9 begin looking to the future and building the types of coalitions and support that have driven so many successful ideologic moments in history.
We must face the prospects of likely losing both houses of congress, splitting statehouses, and losing some key down ballot races that are critical such as Secretary of State.
There is no time for the same old hand wringing and calls for a change. We need to take action. I believe in the 12-step program, but in this case it’s four simple steps.
It’s time for a leadership change. On November 9th, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and the entire leadership of the house, and Senate—Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin included—need to call it quits. We love the work you have done, you guided us through some difficult times, but it’s time for a new generation of leadership. In its place, we need a mix of centrists, progressives and new Democrats that represent the new south, the old west and the emerging mid-west.
Be in it for the long game. Focus on taking back the state houses and gaining control of the local narrative in states that make a difference. Look to organize in states that have traditionally been red and are now moving purple. Reclaim local and state issues that are important to everyone: crime, community, education and global excellence.
Support the middle class. After Obama we lost the independent-minded middle class and blue-collar voters who care about bread and butter issues and believe that we can work hard and make a living and that the government does have a place in our lives—to help us through the tough times.
Take back from the Republicans the issues of fairness, safety, educational excellence and international leadership and stay on message.
Democrats hate to stay on message. Too often they can’t help themselves and they veer off into uncharted territory, creating long, tangled narratives that opponents easily turn against them. Take the issues of defunding the police, critical race theory, and even inflation. In each case the Democrats could have easily claimed the high ground. Democrats have long been stalwart supporters of sensible, ethical policing. In fact, some of the nation’s top Democrats were once police officers or military personnel. And since 1909 Democrats have supported the best of education, and supported the need for a robust public education system. So how is it that they are now the destroyers of educational equity and excellence? Does anyone remember trickle down economics, the Bush deficits? For decades Democrats have talked about balanced budgets and economic stimulus when it made sense as well as creating economic prosperity. So how is it we are losing the battle on saving the middle class? The answer is because we just cannot stay on message.
But rather than stand defeated, Democrats and moderate Republicans need to demonstrate true leadership.
Yes, it will be a difficult couple weeks after the November 8th election, and yes, Republicans will give back committee assignments to Marjorie Taylor Green and strip AOC and others of their committees, start investigations into Hunter Biden, bring up impeachment, kill the voting rights act, and try to shut down the government over fiscal matters. But rather than stand defeated, Democrats and moderate Republicans need to demonstrate true leadership. In times like these I refer back to great speeches that held great promise, in a time when Democrats and Republicans worked together and collaborated on important legislation on healthcare, social security and education. Such a speech came from Ted Kennedy’s concession speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. He captured the mood of the moment, as a country struggling with high inflation, and discontent needed a vision for the future. He stated:
"There will be setbacks and sacrifices in the years ahead; but I am convinced that we as a people are ready to give something back to our country in return for all it has given to us. It is surely correct that we cannot solve problems by throwing money at them, but it is also correct that we dare not throw out our national problems onto a scrap heap of inattention and indifference. The poor may be out of political fashion, but they are not without human needs. The middle class may be angry, but they have not lost the dream that all Americans can advance together. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
We must not just as Democrats or Republicans work to reclaim our heritage as stewards of American idealism, pushing back on the continued rise of divisive and hateful rhetoric. We can build toward a greater future if we take the necessary steps to reassert our understanding and compassion for the human spirit.
This article was originally posted to the Jewish Journal.