Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a three-part series about the election. Read Part 1 HERE.
Why do Democrats have no brains or original ideas of their own anymore? And even when they did, for the past quarter century all their supposed “new” ideas were just watered down or stolen from the Republicans.
The Dems have now lost both houses of Congress. But this fate has been inevitable for them for at least the past five years. The fate of the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections was written in the highpoint of their fortunes when they won the White House and the 111th Congress in 2008.
It was a highpoint the party had not known since 1964-66, when President Lyndon Johnson enjoyed a Senate where his party controlled 66 seats – two thirds of the total – along with an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives.
In 2008, Barack Obama was swept to victory in the largest popular vote victory in his party’s history. It was the first time any Democrat presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson 44 years earlier had won an absolute majority of the popular vote. Obama’s personal victory margin over hapless Sen. John McCain was more than 8 million votes. More Americans voted for Obama than for any other individual in the history of the Republic. And yet within two years the Dems had lost control of the House to the resurgent Republicans.
Obama had real, major achievements to count during those two years. He and his Treasury Department quite literally saved the United States from a full fiscal meltdown comparable with the Great Depression. Government programs, sneered and excoriated on the “all government is bad” Right, bailed out the Detroit auto industry and laid the foundation for an unanticipated but very real revival of the manufacturing sector, especially in the Midwest.
However, absolutely no comparison exists to the flood of legislation under LBJ that changed America, in basic respects incomparably for the better, in 1965. Nothing the Democrats have done is comparable to Medicare, Medicaid and the Civil Rights Act or even during the Johnson administration, the launching of Public Television. (LBJ of course also gave us the welfare catastrophe, dangerous inflation, the Vietnam War and race riots. But those are other stories.)
Instead, in a failure of nerve unmatched and unprecedented in American history, Obama ignored the examples and lessons of reform under every president going back at least to Abraham Lincoln in 1861-2.
No sooner had he taken office than he voluntarily and unnecessarily threw away his power. He delegated the drafting of the crucial pieces of reform legislation in his first term to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. When you throw away power like that as soon as you come to Washington, you never get it back.
Pelosi, Reid and their loyal favorites chairing the respective congressional committees couldn’t rise to the occasion either. The legislation they crafted was long, ludicrously complex, filled with holes, cautious, amateurish and ineffectual in equal measure.
Congress rushed through the crucial Glass-Steagall Act separating the functions of savings and investment banks in 1933 during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first 100 days. It was five pages long. The Dodd-Frank Act was passed in 2010 to reinstate the basic achievement of Glass-Steagall. It was planned to reverse the catastrophic effects of the witless, greed-driven 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, one of the worst pieces of financial legislation in all of American history. But Dodd-Frank was 9,000 pages long, and when it was passed endless key provisions and financial defining parameters and limits were left out, to be filled in months later, if ever.
Even the key defining reform measure of the Obama years, universal health reform, when it passed, was based on a plan devised by the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC and later first implemented in a practical manner by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. (This of course, never stopped the Heritage Foundation, Romney himself as the 2012 Republican presidential candidate and every other conservative spear-carrier in the land from blasting the Obama reform as a budget-busting, useless road to ruin. Another Big Lie, if ever there was one.)
So the Democrats, even at the height of their fortunes from 2008 through 2014, couldn’t even come up with any new ideas of their own to reshape American society. They had to lift their ideas from the Republicans.
And even worse, they didn’t have the nerve to act as rulers even when they’d been expressly voted in to do so.
Martin Sieff is a former senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and former Managing Editor, International Affairs for United Press International. Mr. Sieff is the author of “That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs” (Wiley 2012) and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East” (Regnery, 2008). He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting.