We wait, some with baited breath, for the November elections to see whether the Democrats will lose either the House or the Senate. Contrary to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ assessment, I am not willing to say that Democrats could lose the House. But clearly there will be major losses for Democrats in Congress.
The question is why after only two years of Democrats controlling the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate are we talking about such losses? Is it inevitable that in midterm elections the party in power loses seats? Is the fight only over how many? Is it because when you do something different the people want to put the brakes on change or is it that this year’s losses will be the result of Democrats being too timid in moving forward the social agenda they promised the voters?
I think it is a combination of all those things. It will take many years for voters to feel the impact of the key bills that Congress passed — healthcare reform, the stimulus and financial reform packages. Unemployment hovers around 10 percent, many of the reforms in the healthcare bill don’t take effect until 2014 and most people have no idea of what the financial reform legislation will mean to them.
There are many interest groups that make up the base of the Democratic Party, including women, unions, the LGBT community and Latinos. They’re all wondering what happened to the urgency for passing social legislation they support that directly impacts their lives. Those are the groups that the Democratic Party needs to excite and get to the polls if they want to limit the anticipated losses in November. Yet many of those groups are looking at the Democratic Party and thinking, “You told us in 2008 that if we donate money, get our people to the polls, work hard and put our trust in you, that you will return that trust by passing legislation that helps us. Now you tell us, sorry we couldn’t do it but keep trusting us because the other party is worse.”
That’s a hard message to sell and an even harder one to buy, even if true. The inability to sell it is seen in the latest Gallup Poll numbers, which show that there is a more than 20 percent difference in excitement for the November elections with the Democrats on the losing end of that excitement meter.
As a Democrat and a member of the LGBT community I have a really hard time getting excited about this election. I look at my party and think, “Where is the urgency on my issues?” Where is the urgency for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when 82 percent of the country supports repeal, including even Bill O’Reilly? Where is the urgency for passing ENDA? Where is the urgency for passing legislation to give LGBT federal government employees health insurance and other benefits for their partners?
I am thankful that the hate crimes act was finally passed and signed and that there are some other benefits the president has extended with the stroke of a pen. But the big issues haven’t been accomplished and in some cases the feeling is no one is seriously trying. The sense in the LGBT community and the other Democratic base communities is that if we have the huge majorities we have in Congress today and we can’t move these issues forward, why is it that we should continue to give money to groups like the DNC or DCCC who then give it to Democrats who won’t vote for our issues anyway. It is hard for most people to continue to buy that argument.
I understand how Congress works. I know that with a Republican-controlled Congress that marriage equality in D.C. is at risk. Then again, we have a Congress controlled by Democrats now that couldn’t pass either legislative or budget autonomy for the District.
So I understand groups like GetEqual that are taking to the streets and using tactics we haven’t seen since the early days of ACT-UP and the anti-war movement. They believe we need to be heard and to remind Democrats to stop taking us for granted.
It is a conundrum for sure. But it is one that President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid must deal with if they want our support. They wanted the power and we are now demanding they use it. Promises for the future aren’t enough to excite us anymore if we don’t feel any sense of urgency to meet the promises of the past.