Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Some comments on 'staying home'

"If you have the numbers to pass arguably the singular liberal issue of our time, and then refuse to do it, then why are we here?" asks Ta-Nehisi Coates. It's a good question. But he goes on to dismiss the notion that the Democratic base should punish this behavior by staying home in November. "There's just too much else at stake," he says.

I think I've built some credibility around my willingness to make pragmatic compromises and accept painful concessions when necessary. What makes this situation different is that Democrats aren't striking a regrettable bargain with the realities of the situation. They are creating a new reality in which they abandon the most important thing they've done in the past 40 years because, well, they're afraid to do it, or too tired to do it.

We all agree that there is some point at which the base should abandon the party, at least for a single election cycle. If Democrats voted to abolish Medicare, say. The question is whether collapse on this issue represents a betrayal of that magnitude. I'd say it's pretty close: Refusing to enact the entitlement health program that will cover those younger than age 65 isn't as shocking as rolling back Medicare, but it is as cruel, and as needless. If we did enact this program, voting to abolish it 30 years from now would probably seem much like trying to abolish Medicare.

The other question relates to the dynamics of the situation. If a demoralized Democratic base stays home in 2010 and Democrats lose 14 seats in the Senate and 60 seats in the House, is that really so different, in outcome, than if they keep a bare majority in one or the other chamber? Maybe. But maybe not. Republicans wouldn't be able to get anything over Obama's veto. And maybe they'd be able to use the fact that they're in charge in Congress to take some risks and compromise with the president on some major legislative achievements. Divided government does have some advantages.

And what's the alternative? It's hard to imagine that a Democratic majority that can't act with 59 votes in the Senate and a 40-vote margin in the House will have the steel to do much if they're left with 53 votes in the Senate and a close minority in the House.

But at the end of the day, this is all speculation. My basic position is that politics is a marketplace like any other, and preferences need to be known. If Democrats decide to drop something this important to the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings because they lost a special election in Massachusetts, they should be punished in the sole way this marketplace allows.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 21, 2010; 9:35 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The problem with paring back
Next: Will the more conservative Senate bill win over more conservative House members?


It's heartbreaking. I'm trying to hold off saying what I'm thinking.

It just feels like the Orcs are swarming and the Fellowship is broken.

Posted by: bcamarda2 | January 21, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I don't think it's a "choice" to stay home. It's just a reality. You can't build a political movement on defense. You can't bring people out to talk the precincts and into the voting booths by promising, "we will slightly slow down the rate at which the other guys will push their ideological agenda." You have to promise your own agenda and then deliver on it or, at the very least, fight for it.

Posted by: constans | January 21, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

As much as the left accuses Obama of playing 11-dimension chess, it's even more convoluted to suggest that ceding power to people who are actively working against your goals (the GOP) somehow advances your goals.

Isn't it more rational to try and convince Evan Bayh not to spook so easily than to swap him out for Mitch Daniels? You get to vote ONCE EVERY SIX YEARS for individual Senate seats. Staying home is for drooling morons and children with the sniffles.

At the margins, the current Obama administration and Democratic Congress make a huge positive difference for a subset of people that are a core constituency of the left. Maybe Dems aren't fixing or even addressing some massive systemic problems but they aren't actively working against them either. A whole score of GOP Senators just voted against letting raped employees of government contractors use the courts! Staying home is the weakest of weak sauce for the left.

Posted by: jamusco | January 21, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, I think you are assuming that The Grand Old Party of Nothing is interested in good governance. For the next three years they are only interested in preventing the Obama administration from accomplishing anything. They don't care how it delays our financial recovery (thinking of basic financial industry reform), they don't care how it leaves us vulnerable to our renemies (thinking of Southern), they don't care how it hurts average citizens (blocking legislation that would help the unemployed).

Remember that a wing of this party has stated they want to drown the Federal Government in a bath tub. This is one of the ways they do that.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | January 21, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Do you reward 25% of your base with poorly formed legislation to risk alienating the other 75% and independents by pushing through legislation?

The vast majority of democrats and liberals support an ethical, transparent Congress over one that passes some bill called "health care reform" by any way possible.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

And they will be punished - voters who are Democrats will turn their backs on them because of their cowardice and betrayal on a core issue of their platform - voters who are Republicans will not be converted and will still vote Republican. The only way that Democrats can win is if they pass health care reform.

If they can't even enact a program that will have positive effects on the current generation, how will they ever deal with issues that effect generations to come - global warming and climate change. I often wonder what those future generations will think of us when they look back...I don't think it will be a favorable assessment.

Posted by: tnoord | January 21, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, I'd be very interested to know what you think about this:

Where Digby argues that the House will not pass the Senate bill even if every progressive is on board, because the anti-choicers in the House feel the anti-choice language in the Senate bill is weak.

Posted by: madrigan | January 21, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

I got thru my 5 stages of grief pretty quickly. Already in acceptance over the loss of 1 seat in MA.

However, I'm now PO'd over Democrat's cowardice and lack of will.

Here's a message for those Democrats in Congress: "If you have a majority in Congress, with 60% of the House and 59% of the Senate, the largest majority, I might add, in many years, and you still can't pass Healthcare Reform, you deserve to be kicked out."

Dear Lord. Republicans had MUCH less than that and they still managed to pass enough bills in the last 8 years to almost bankrupt the nation.

Maybe if the Republicans are in charge again, and they push us to the next Great Recession/Depression or some other version of the Culture Wars, we'll get some new Democrat politicians with an actual backbone and "cojones" to get the work done.

I know time will tell if Democrats actually have the guts to be Leaders, and not just self-interested bureaucrats. But in the here and now, they're looking pretty bureaucratic to me, and the rest of the Nation.

Posted by: JERiv | January 21, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

What's shocking about this mess is that back in October 2008, a 60 vote supermajority was never a foregone conclusion. What would the Democrats have done then? Surely they didn't presume to have at least one or two Republicans on board for every one of their major agenda items. And they couldn't have thought that they would spent the next two years passing nothing, could they?

Posted by: briansbrain | January 21, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

"For the next three years they are only interested in preventing the Obama administration from accomplishing anything."

What's preventing Obama from accomplishing anything is allowing Pelosi and others push progressive legislation with the assumption they can pick up every Democrat and 1-2 Republicans. They go behind closed doors to create bills, craft strategy and negotiate with others. That's not bi-partisanship, actually it resembles the closed governments of communism than any democracy.
There's no trust on the other side to believe Pelosi and the Democrats. The Republicans can't trust the Democrats to articulate their positions faithfully, proceed through the legislative process fairly, or act in the interests favorable to the American people. That's the perception that's set. More legislative shenanigans isn't going to fix that.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

There is an alternative, although at first glance paradoxical. Resolve to put this Party on a Path to 55.

Progressives were sucked into the whole "Road to 60", hell even ActBlue got into the action

But all we got was a transfer in power to the most right 5 members of the Caucus. Since theoretically we COULD break any filibuster, Republicans were in some odd sense not responsible for mounting them. If Democrats only had a 55 seat majority then bills would pass, nominees would get seated just as they have in all the decades past because Republicans can't afford to take all the blame in a situation where they have all the responsibility.

Progressives don't have to enter into purity rites, just acknowledge that in the bigger scheme of things losing Lincoln, or Nelson, or Bayh's seat doesn't cost us much. There are Republican Senators out there that want to work for solutions, think Wyden-Bennett, there is just a peculiar dyanamic at precisely 60 votes that prevents that from happening.

So don't give up on the Party, give up on the fantasy of a filibuster proof Senate able to push a progressive agenda. Because the Conservadems are just not into us and make us look like hapless, helpless giants. You don't want to take this so far that you let the Party simply drift out of the majority, but I can't see that a 55 Dem Caucus plus Sanders wouldn't be a lot more effective than one that includes Lieberman, Nelson, Lincoln and Bayh (some would keep Bayh and dump Landrieu, whatever)

Posted by: BruceWebb | January 21, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

For the folks making the comments about how you still need to support the losers who aren't getting things done.

We lived thru 8 years of W, and we're still alive. Heck, if he hadn't been there, Obama wouldn't have been elected.

History is a bit of a see-saw. You swing too far to one side, you'll swing just as far to the other side.

If the people we elected to get us back on track don't have the will, knowledge, foresight, courage, and capacity to Lead, then no matter how supportive you are of the Democratic causes, you will NEVER get the support of the base, or of the American public.

What you are all advocating is the moral equivalent of supporting a corrupt government because you believe that the alternative could be worse.

We've had mediocre or incompetent governments in the past, and there's always been a purge in response to their lack of Leadership. So, the question is, would you rather Democrats get purged (1994), or Republicans (2006)?

Up to you. If they don't get their act together, I'd rather kick the bums out now and get some true leadership in the near future than have to see incompetent legislators stay there for years, only to be kicked out and replaced by something much, much worse when the recoil finally occurs in the larger American public.

Look at it this way. If something as horrible as Palin getting elected ever happens, then what do you think will be the recoil once she's done mutilating the country? Seriously? We'll probably be getting a Teddy R. or FDR by the time she's done!

Posted by: JERiv | January 21, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I'm with you Ezra, the dems need to grow a pair and pass the bill as-is through the house then tweak if needed. First because it is the right thing ethically. Second because it's the right thing politically.

Yesterday was the first day of his presidency that I got mad at Obama because of his statement appearing to back away from HCR. Yes, compromise on perfection to get something done. Yes, make liberals and conservatives mad. But, for all that, you have to know when to stop compromise and play hardball. Now is obviously that time. Not to do so will simultaneously sacrifices principle and looks weak. Spectacular double disaster.

Doesn't somebody in this administration say the only thing non negotiable is success? Well then stop negotiating and F'ing succeed with the best deal you can get. The country doesn't care about the insider Washington sniping about someone stepped on someone's toes. They care about getting something done. I thought this administration got that.

I'm a liberal leaning independent and am about to be truly pissed. Really. No, really.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | January 21, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

"If it be so, why am I thus?" The progressive promise was never limited to Democratic leadership, which has sold its birthright. Even at this point, the party could be salvaged by swiftly jettisoning the leaders. But it's not going to happen.

I'm glad to see you awakening, Ezra, and admitting you were wrong to insist we just hold our noses.

Posted by: JF11 | January 21, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

*Look at it this way. If something as horrible as Palin getting elected ever happens, then what do you think will be the recoil once she's done mutilating the country?*

You can't run a campaign on the platform of, "support me or the other guy will be worse." It's hard, but possible, to win an election with the message of, "replace the bad guys with someone who's better." Once you're actually *in* office, this message doesn't work.

To see what we're up against, we have cpferry irrationally spouting off how the Democrats are a Communist cabal. And you know, when you're out of power, you can use such messages to great effect. But when you're in power, and especially when you're unwilling to threaten the public with a repeat of the bush years, you have to actually give people a reason to fight for *you*.

Posted by: constans | January 21, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

No need to be so harsh. If this group of Democrats was so quick to give up in Iraq when it was difficult, they should be allowed to give up on health care. And just about anything else that is difficult.

No need to get into a sweat. If anything is hard to do - it is not worth doing.

Let the Chinese make stuff and the Indians call us about it. We should just sit back and enjoy the good life.

While it lasts.

Posted by: gary4books | January 21, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I'm with you, Ezra, except I can think of one additional way in the meantime to put pressure on Dems to pass HCR. There's probably not time to do it, but in principle, you could set up a political donation fund that would distribute to Dem candidates--contingent on their passing HCR. If progressives dumped, I dunno, $20 million into such a fund (roughly 30 cents per registered Democrat) and dangled it before the fence sitting cowards, that might be inducement enough for them to take a "risky" vote. Maybe the Daily Kos people could set this up. Well, a guy can dream.

Posted by: JonathanTE | January 21, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

dear president obama

for the sake of the country, what is left of the frayed workings of our congress, for the health and welfare of your suffering and ill fellow americans, for the spirit, morale and hope that this country needs to move forward, and for the bond you have with those who worked so hard for your candidacy, please do everything in your power to get this health care reform bill passed as quickly possible.
though there may be other alternatives, the will, resolve and patience of the american people will not outlast the process and the consequences will be like shark-infested waters.
precious time has been spent on this, when there are so many other issues that need fixing and attention, please help us to move forward quickly and at least begin health care reform.
at this late point, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.please dont let hope crumble. we must act now.

Posted by: jkaren | January 21, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, Ta-Nehesi Coates is a woman

Posted by: rjewett | January 21, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

The problem being that this rewards the worst of the lot, those whose obstructionism has brought us to this point.

Posted by: adamiani | January 21, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

the problem is that Democrats think their party is bigger than it is. if you go too far left you tick off the conservatives and moderates. Too far right you tick off the progressives. Obama was able in 2008 to pick up all of the above because of disillusionment of 8 years of Bush rule. Dems don't have that ability now. Progressives really need to understand that we're never going to have a 100% progressive legislature or even close to it. If they think staying home (ala Coakley) is going to benefit them they're in for a rude awakening. The problem is they're not together and Republicans (for all their warts) do have a way of sticking together. It may not help them on policy issues but does on political ones.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 21, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

If you want to punish the Democrats for not being far enough to the left, it makes no sense to punish them by passively letting the country slide to the right. Vote in primary elections, vote Green if you feel the need, but *do not* let the final poll numbers be spun as "Well, Arlen Specter is just too close to Socialism for the American people". Because that's what people come to believe when the progressives sit at home.

Also, to rjewett: Ta-Nehisi is a man, man.

Posted by: jbandlow | January 21, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Different people are going to have different tolerances - the danger is finding the tipping point beyond which the Democrats lose everything. I think most people understand the process is ugly and the Republicans - none of them - will never ever ever vote for anything. So I think what some people (EK included) are saying is a way to salvage the situation (a couple quick easy reforms to build the future on) is the way to salvage health care reform yes, but also the congress and the presidency.

But you can't do that if our esteemed members of congress are huddled together in the corner crying like scared little children on a dark and rainy night.

Posted by: luko | January 21, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Well, I don't see myself staying home, just because that's not the sort of thing I do. But when the DNC, DCCC, and DSCC call me asking for money, I'm going to tell them to jump in a lake. Why should I spend money to help them not enact my policy priorities, when I can get that for free?

Posted by: JEinATL | January 21, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Whoops, sorry about that Mr. Coates. Thanks Jbandlow. Don't know how I got that wrong.

Posted by: rjewett | January 21, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse


First, yours is just about the only blog I can read anymore (Chait and Benen notwithstanding), and it's postings like these which really reinforce that for me.

I heard Chris Cillizza on Diane Rehm yesterday, and all the guests fell into the now-familiar talking point (ala Coates) that this Mass special election was a referendum on the national Dems, and that the Dems better be listening. To whom, though? A confused and angry electorate that can't balance their own checkbooks, or want "jobs" but also lower taxes? I guess it's back to cutting taxes and increasing the debt then, since we all know cutting taxes creates jobs ...

Posted by: nickthap | January 21, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

No one says it Better Than Ezra!

Posted by: AZProgressive | January 21, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, all the gasbags from Tuesday who were crowing that markets were surging in response to the Dems loss of their so-called supermajority...

Dow down 187 points. Down 100 yesterday. Guess those holy capitalist markets don't like the idea of a Republican 41/59 majority very much.

Posted by: luko | January 21, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Glad to see anger with the Democrats rising. It's an important first step to making them do what we want them to do.

Step 2: hold their campaign donations hostage

Posted by: BigTunaTim | January 21, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

ezra: "Republicans wouldn't be able to get anything over Obama's veto."

Is there anything that makes one believe Obama would veto a Republican bill that somehow made it through both houses?

I can hear the Obama words out of the future: "The American people have spoken through their elected representatives, and I will respect their desires".

I'm staying with my day-by-day firmer opinion that Obama is NOT a leader, and that there is no there there. Animals without a backbone are called invertibrates. Obama is an invertibrate.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | January 21, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

You're missing the bigger point. Those of us committed to staving off the disaster that would follow Republican rule will still go out to vote.

But none of the Independents will join us - you will lose the middle you were hoping to gain, because they will see you have wasted their time with painful and pointless debates ending in nothing. The thinking will be: you cannot deliver what you promise, so let's give the other side a try.

Posted by: Sophomore | January 21, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

The independents will fry the Democrats in 2010 on what's already happened: the lack of transparency, Senate buy-offs and handouts to special interests. They're lost for 2010, they may come back in 2012. Any new move on health care will lose them entirely.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Generally, I don't see an advantage in staying home unless you really don't see how it will be any different, no matter who you vote for. I voted for Bush senior in '92, but after 4 years of Clinton, and an anemic Bob Dole, I actually just stayed home during that election. As I did during the midterm impeachment saga.

The one advantage of "kicking the bums out" is that, after 2 or 4 or 6 years of the country moving in a direction you don't like, you get a lot more fresh faces in the old party. Sometimes, if the party you oppose gets drunk on power and overreaches, you might end up not only with fresh faces, but a sizable majority, once you get power back.

And, while I'm opposed to most of the Democratic agenda, I would argue that they are suffering from problems of implementation and strategy, rather than of pure policy or ideology. If they lose in November or in 2012, it's going to be a repudiation of the execution of policy, not the policies themselves. It's a personnel problem.

You need somebody in those positions moving on those agenda items, it just turns out that, this time, you got the wrong people. But it's a tough job, and finding the Clinton or the JFK or the FDR or the Reagan to make political ideology into practical reality is tough business. And even if you find them (Newt Gingrich, 1994) they can quickly turn into the wrong person for the job (Newt Gingrich, 1998).

But I'm personally of the opinion that the best government comes from inertia, gridlock, and competing powers periodically taking over the reigns. So, basically, yay for the Republicans. Long live the Democrats!

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 21, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

*But none of the Independents will join us - you will lose the middle you were hoping to gain, because they will see you have wasted their time with painful and pointless debates ending in nothing*

This is precisely right. There are plenty of activists who are going to turn out and vote and volunteer no matter what. But there are plenty who will do so only if they have a reason. And the party is failing to give them a reason.

Posted by: constans | January 21, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse


"Dow down 187 points. Down 100 yesterday. Guess those holy capitalist markets don't like the idea of a Republican 41/59 majority very much."

Am I the only person who is tired of this kind of analysis, whether it's Limbaugh or Olberman or O'Rielly, inferring these kind of causal relationships drives me nuts. The stock market indexes are average measures of millions of individual interactions (mostly of the buy and sell variety), and react to elections, earnings reports, rumors, natural disasters, weather, economic indicators, and don't forget the day traders and the mutual fund managers with bi-polar disorder. I mean, seriously.

After the Scott Brown victory, we've had two days of crappy weather down here in west Tennessee. Damn Republicans!

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 21, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I agree.

If they won't act on this, they won't act on anything at all. Action on climate change is dead and that means the planet is dead.

But Raul Grijalva and Joe Lieberman can bake to death secure in the knowledge that they stayed righteous the whole entire time.

I wash my hands of the Democrats. They are craven and stupid, and that is just as bad as being evil and wrong. They're just two different routes to the same destination.

Posted by: pj_camp | January 21, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

*inferring these kind of causal relationships drives me nuts. *

That's true, but the only way to put an end to it is mutual disarmament. Every Republican rank-and-file voter back in winter/spring '09 was ignorantly spouting off that it was Obama and Geithner's fault every time the stock market went down. This was not "from Limbaugh." Rather, it was a specific set of drafted talking points that were sent out by the Republican party to be repeated by their loyal footsoldiers in order to reinforce the alternate conservative delusion by getting them to buy in to a specific set of marching orders. Don't want to have it thrown back in your face? Don't support the people who made it a personal policy belief.

Posted by: constans | January 21, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

What makes you think Obama would veto anything? He hasn't shown any spine to date, yet.

And the greater problem would be when the tea baggers get their president in '12. She'd sign anything the republicans put on her desk.

Posted by: jc263field | January 21, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

--"I think I've built some credibility around my willingness to make pragmatic compromises and accept painful concessions when necessary."--

That's the second funniest thing I've read all day, Klein. I never considered how personally demeaning it must be for the Post's token Valley Girl. Is that Brauchli fellow forcing you to take positions you don't want to take? Tch tch. Sympathies.

Posted by: msoja | January 21, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

In short, yes, we will stay home. It's apparently the only thing these cowards take notice of.

Posted by: mattcw | January 22, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

I, too, want to punish Democrats for these types of namby-pamby retreats. And I have in the past -- I've voted Green in several elections, at least on the local level when there're Green candidates. This time, I voted for Obama, and I would suspect that many other Green sympathizers did as well, even if they didn't say so.

But a problem arises: The writers of the "narrative" take the wrong lesson from my Green vote. They assume Democrats need to become more "conservative," whatever that means these days. They assume that I switched products in a two-product marketplace. No, I dropped out of the two-product marketplace, along with other Green voters and people who didn't bother to vote.

I know it's challenging for them, but Democrats must EXPAND the pool of shoppers by offering a product that me and the non-voters will buy. In November 2008, we bought "Change," apparently on lay-away. Then we went back to the store and found "Change" on back-order. How many more times will I fall for this?

Democrats' credibility is on the line. I'm waiting to see whether I'll return to the polls for them.

-Shane, Omaha

Posted by: spekny | January 22, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company