Democrats out of touch?

By Christopher Horton

There’s an old saying which fits the moment: “Words butter no parsnips.”

During the Special Senate Election this past January I went door to door asking my neighbors to vote for Martha Coakley – the same neighbors I had asked in December for their vote for Mike Capuano, and in October for their vote for our new Mayor, Joe O’Brien. I took my time and really listened to what they were saying, and by January the ones who hadn’t gotten sick of me were getting used to talking to me. By the morning of Jan. 19, I knew that Coakley would carry my precinct – she did, barely – but would lose the election, because so many Democrats and former Democrats were planning to vote for Scott Brown.

Then on election night I spoke to every Democratic Party officeholder, official and activist I recognized at what was supposed to be the victory party at Jose Murphy’s, and asked them why they thought this rout happened. One after another they answered “bad candidate”, “bad campaign” or both. Then I asked what the way forward was. Their answers: “better candidate” or “better campaign!” (One young officeholder answered “Organize. Organize, organize, organize!” Which turns out to be Patrick’s strategy.) When I then asked them if they thought that maybe there was something deeper going on, most simply said “no.”

But what I was hearing from my neighbors was a different story, and near the top of their list of complaints was that “the Democrats” (by which they never seemed to mean themselves) were out of touch. The responses I was getting from the insiders at Jose Murphy’s proved their point! They were indeed clueless – and still are as far as I can tell.

Voters talked more about Obama and Patrick than about Coakley. About the absurdity of a health care bill that forced them to buy insurance they can’t afford, with deductibles so high they couldn’t afford to use it. About the pain of unemployment (some have been out of work for over a year) and loss of benefits, collapsing house values and their unforgotten anger over the bailouts.

They talked about voting for change – the change Patrick and Obama promised – that wasn’t happening.

Some made excuses for Brown and used Republican talking points about “illegal immigrants”, but others were up front about just wanting this election to be a wakeup call for “the Democrats”. (The State AFL/CIO’s exit poll confirmed that 47% of votes for union households had gone for Scott Brown – vs. 44% for Coakley – and that their main complaint about the health bill was that it didn’t include a public option!)

Several days later Obama proved he had totally misread their wakeup call, by announcing a freeze on new discretionary spending – which had been a Republican demand for a decade!

So what has Patrick done since then? Mostly words as far as I can see, little stuff around the edges, and more excuses. He is claiming the “economic recovery” – which my neighbors aren’t seeing and don’t believe in. (As one of them put it, she’s “waiting for the other shoe to drop” on that one.) In the meantime he signed an Ed Reform bill which is a direct and outrageous attack on the hard-won right of public workers – a foundation of the Democratic Party – to collective bargaining, and he’s been bragging about how mercifully he’s been at gutting local aid and state services, at the same time that he’s continuing to give away tens of millions to the corporations, and he’s being unaccountably slow to spend the Federal stimulus funds.

His strategy for re-election, from yesterday’s T&G: “… 21,700 community organizers by Election Day… each one … responsible for 50 people.”

My neighbors will be unimpressed.

What we need from you, dear delegates, is that you put Patrick on notice that this is the Democratic Party, not some corporate insiders club, and that you – we – expect action and results now, on jobs, housing, healthcare. And we want tax money collected from those who can still afford to pay, the wealthy and the corporations, to keep our schools, public services and fire stations open, no excuses.

In the meantime, for those of you who aren’t familiar with parsnips, they are sweet, tasty when baked and buttered, nutritious and cheap – good food for a depression. You won’t find them at Shaw’s, but Price Rite carries them.

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