Democrats in denial?
The Guardian last week showed a video titled, Democrats in denial. Gary Younge interviewed Democrats in Colorado working in lonely silent offices, who claimed they thought they could still win the Senate and the House. The video’s title says it all – that they don’t stand a chance.
Yesterday, Bill Clinton was in town for a rally endorsing Andrew Cuomo, New York’s candidate for governor (the New York Times has a nice piece on the pair’s relationship). It was part of Clinton’s whistle-stop campaign tour — he visited Chicago the day before. Crowds queued an hour in advance to hear the 42nd US president speak in the gymnasium of New York’s City College of Technology. Clinton praised Obama’s achievements in healthcare, student loans and jobs. “We’re one week from an election. The choices here are quite profound,” he said, adding: “There is always a gap between when you do something and when people feel better .”
Clinton said that when people complain Obama hasn’t gotten the US out of a hole, “they’re right. But it was a very deep hole. At least we stopped digging.” The Dems are putting in place policies that will build a 21st century economy, the former president said.
He explained that Democrats are in favour of efficient government, not big government, and have nothing against the rich. “We do not resent successful people in America,” Clinton stated. “We just want everybody to get a fair deal.”
Pop music blared before Clinton’s arrival and campaigners did their best to whip the audience into a frenzy. Cuomo afterwards took the stage, amidst “Cu-mo” chants. He talked about the hard work he’d had to do when he worked at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development under Clinton. And he described Republican tactics: “They’re trying to play on the fear that they sense, on the anxiety that people feel.” But nobody can drive a wedge between New Yorkers. “We get it in New York,” he said. “We know what they are trying to do. Because we are energized. All the polls are going to be wrong.”
Afterwards I took a train to Brooklyn where grassroots Dems were hitting the phones. Far from seeming in denial, they showed a sense of urgency and panic. We were phoning voters in the 23rd district (in the Adirondacks, near Canada) upstate where the Democrats are under pressure. Of the 55 calls that I made – to voters who were undecided, Republican or Democrat – only five picked up their phone. Some were annoyed by getting political calls and one man said he was fed up with the “whole bunch.” None were leaning to the left.
The phonebank’s organizers, Hilary and Amy, were full of commitment and energy but they were worried, especially about the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington on Saturday. More than 225,000 people are signed up on facebook, most of them presumably similar to Stewart’s TV audience: young, politically-engaged and liberal (the Guardian’s Michael Tomasky describes them as “news-junkie liberals“). On the weekend before the election, this takes a chunk of enthusiastic campaigners out of action for what is essentially a party. “I can’t believe people didn’t know better,” Amy said.
Time is tight. The Dems need all the help they can get, and I began to wonder if the Rally for Sanity could be an own-goal for liberals. This weekend is the Dems’ last chance to revive their base: what they need is campaigners, and voters, not comedic commentary.
Update: Stewart interviewed Obama on his show last night. It doesn’t make for easy watching.