As Democrats assess the damage from the Massachusetts Senate special election on Tuesday, they have some questions to ponder.
(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
The party is asking how factors like health care reform led to Republican Scott Brown's victory. They will also have to consider what the race means for Democrats leading up to the 2010 midterm elections.
While grappling with those questions, political operatives and pundits who align themselves with the left are at odds over how the Democratic party should respond to the election -- whether the party needs to take bolder action in the name of liberal causes, or recalibrate its message to reflect a more moderate, cautious approach to governing.
"Democrats will say: See? Voters want results and blame Democrats for not producing results. So -- do more. Fight harder. Get results. (This will require more spending and higher taxes, but we won't say so.)," writes CBS News chief political consultant, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder. "Republicans will say: See? Voters fed up with Democratic policies. So -- stop Democratic policies. (This will require painful spending cuts and is unrealistic during a recession, but we won't say so.)"
It is not only Republicans, however, arguing that voters want to see Washington tack right.
"The independents are speaking loudly around the country today and they're telling us, one, to get together here in Washington," Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said Tuesday. "The second thing really is to do something about the economy and move to the center and worry about things that [independents] are worried about."
Moderate Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh said liberal lawmakers should align more closely with their moderate allies.
"Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Dem party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country -- that's not going to work too well," he said.
On the liberal blog Talking Points Memo, commentator Bernard Avishai writes that progressives who pushed for liberal health care reforms are to blame for Democratic candidate Martha Coakley's stunning loss in Massachusetts.
"The real question Democrats have to ask themselves is: how come the greatest piece of social legislation since Medicare is something a progressive Democratic candidate for Ted Kennedy's seat has to speak so defensively about?," Avishai writes. "And we can look no further than Howard Dean, and MSNBC, and Arianna Huffington, and, yes, some columnists at the Times and bloggers here at TPM -- you know, real progressives... [Meanwhile], the undecideds are thinking: 'Hell, if his own people think he's a sell-out and jerk, why should we support this?"
Those progressive bloggers, on the other hand, insist that Coakley lost because Democrats have been too conciliatory to moderates, conservatives and corporate interests.
"It's partly Ted Kennedy's fault for not cultivating an obvious heir. It's partly Martha Coakley's fault for being Martha Coakley," writes Joseph Palermo at Huffington Post. "But mostly it's President Barack Obama's fault for not listening to his progressive base and forsaking us to follow the Rahm Emanuel path of cutting deals with every corporate special interest in Washington in an attempt to perpetuate Democrats in power the same way Republicans do."
Glenn Greenwald at Salon concurs that the Democratic party would be stronger if it listened to its restless liberal base.
"If a political party adopts a strategy of ignoring its base, as the Democrats routinely do, it's an inevitable cost that the base will become dispirited and unmotivated," Greenwald writes. "There's a reason it's called 'the base' -- it's because it's the foundation of the party -- and, as the Republicans never forget, there is a serious cost to ignoring or spurning them."
Other liberal champions are saying Democrats simply need to get things done.
"People who blame others are losers," former Democratic leader Howard Dean said. "If you want to win elections, you stop blaming and get to work."
One labor union official told CBS News, "No amount of campaigning by us can replace having results for working families. They are sick of talk, they want action."
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