House Democrat Michael Capuano shocked House Democrats at their weekly Caucus meeting recently when he flatly told them they're screwed. Capuano was being charitable. They aren't screwed. They screwed themselves. And it wasn't just the Democrats abysmal cave to Obama on Afghanistan, or their even more abysmal failure to plow some of the taxpayer booty Congress ladled out to Wall Street and the big banks into a direct jobs and home foreclosure relief program. These two failures stoked public frustration, impatience, and fury at the Democrats. But their greater sin is that they squandered the mandate they had to turn the public hunger for change into real reforms. The day after Obama won his electoral college landslide victory, the GOP was reeling. Its leader was discredited and loathed. The public blamed him and the GOP for two failed, flawed, costly wars, for making a shambles of an economy, the endless chain of sex and corruption scandals, and an unprecedented giveaway to Wall Street.
The day after that the Democrats could have announced that they would forcefully push for an FDR style jobs and relief program, clamp a tight ceiling on executive compensation for all banks and financial houses that got taxpayer bailout dollars, prohibit all stock speculation, swaps and manipulation by the same banks and financial houses that got bailout money, require that they fully open the lending spigot to distressed home owners, businesses and industry.
A grateful public would have hailed the Democrats for acting like Democrats in more than just name. They would have applauded Obama as the true second coming of FDR. Obama and the Democrats did none of these things. They dithered, retreated, and plopped down half measures to jumpstart the economy, health care reform, and have been stone silent on Obama's Afghan escalation.
Democrats can't blame this on Bush and the GOP. The Democrats had the public goodwill and support to make the change they and Obama paid lip service too. But the operative words are lip service. The clues that that's all they are were glaring even before the start of the presidential campaign.
Start with Bill Clinton. In countless speeches and private talks during the 2000 presidential campaign, Clinton sternly warned the Democrats that if they want to grab the White House they must seize the issues of national security and defense, tax reform, law and order, and banking and corporate deregulation from the Republicans. He once admitted in a candid moment that critics called this and other GOP friendly positions he took, Republican lite. But he was successful with it and figured other Democrats could be too.