Democrats in denial?

Bill Clinton endorsing Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday

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 .”

Music pumped at the Cuomo rally

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.

Hilary & Amy, phone-banking

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.

Republicans can't divide New York, Cuomo said

6 Responses to “Democrats in denial?”
  1. Vinny says:

    You make an interesting point. But the flip side of the rally is that it does, to use that awful term, energize the base. While it takes thousands of young liberals away from hitting the phones, it will send a message to many more thousands than could ever be hit by cold-calling voters. For the Dems, it’s damage limitation. With an economy still struggling, incumbents are always going to suffer.

    • Frieda says:

      That’s a nice point … I was thinking of how young people were so important to the ‘base’ in 2008. If those people could be relied on to campaign this time round, that would be better, to me, than attending Stewart’s rally. The extent to which Stewart will actually urge people to vote (Democrat) is also in question … I was struck by how anxious the two campaigners I spoke to were about the rally; they said that many experienced volunteers who would normally contribute right up to the last minute were going to be absent this weekend… I’ve planned to attend the rally myself, but almost reconsidered it after talking to them.

  2. Peter says:

    Some of those who are going might be politically active, but many aren’t. I think it’s excellent timing.

    • Frieda says:

      Interesting! I mentioned this above, but I wonder how much Stewart will encourage people to vote. It’s not his job to do that after all. I think it would be better if the rally had been last weekend. Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally took place on a politically-significant day but was distant from the election itself and did not distract from it.

  3. Lukas says:

    In a macro sense I can see where you’re coming from but I think that the publicity Jon’s rally is more likely to bring people to the ballot than earnest, but annoying phone calls. Moderates too, not just the left student base.

  4. Frieda says:

    I get what you say, Lukas! In defence of the phone calls: I assume studies have shown that they work, otherwise, it would be foolish for Organizing for America (Obama’s grassroots group) to make them.

    As an FYI: I was phoning on the last day of “persuasion calls”: we were trying to find out who was leaning left. From that day on, the group was only calling those who were leaning left, to remind them to vote.

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