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United we fall
Both of the major political parties, today, are comprised of coalitions of groups who generally agree with one another, but have agendas they consider the most important. The Republicans have a somewhat odd mix of the religious right, southern democrats, southern "libertarians", northern conservatives, and, well, and so on. The Democrats are a mix of civil libertarians, minorities and those who protect them, and labor. And on the Democratic side, this isn't a terribly bad mix. Civil libertarians are interested in preventing oppression, and minorities and labor generally suffer that, and minorities want their rights protected, and labor and unions are good at the whole protecting rights thing, so it all kind of works out.

Until it doesn't. And it didn't in November. The reason is because the coalition was broken. The person who broke it? President Obama. But to a certain extent, while I wouldn't say the blame also rests with those members of the coalition with enough power to make a difference, to force Obama to keep the coalition together, there's certainly work they could have done, that it would have been in their best interest to do.

That element was labor, the only one of the three that has any real power. And they didn't see it coming.

Here's the problem. Each group within the coalition has its own agenda, not in any conspiratol or evil way, merely in terms of the things that are important to them, that anyone else largely agrees with but doesn't see as the most important thing in the world. Unions, for example, want to make sure they're able to keep wages and working conditions reasonable, so they see things like, say, collective bargaining as important. How important? Well, let's pretend for a moment that Obama announced he was going to organize a complete removal of the right to collectively bargain: Unions would be very upset, and would withdraw from the coalition.

Likewise, if Obama organized constitutional changes to allow southern states to reintroduce apartheid, and force women to give up full time employment, well, it doesn't really matter that those concerned about minorities kind of like union representation and the right not to be tortured, they'd leave the coalition.

And civil libertarians - well, if Obama announced he was going to imprison people without trial, continue to wage pointless, arguably illegal, wars, persecute whistleblowers, send death squads out to kill people who can't easily be held for trial, and generally throw civil rights out of the window, well, it doesn't matter that the civil libertarians like unions and want to protect the rights of minorities, they'd be out of the coalition, because they wouldn't be able to stomach voting to give power to such a person.

Which, funnily enough, is what happened in November.

So with liberals staying at home, the Republicans swarmed into power, which leads to...  well, in Wisconsin they've getting rid of collective bargaining rights.

No doubt Democrats will blame liberals for this, but they forget one thing:  a large number of liberals can no longer stomach being a part of the coalition, and it's because of the actions of that coalition.

What about the future? Republicans seem to be overreaching at the moment, and that may well damage them in the very short term, but unless the remaining Democrat coalition members are willing to eject the extremist anti-civil libertarians from power, the Democrats will simply never be that coalition again. Civil libertarians aren't going to joing the Republicans, they're just going to join that 50% of the American population who see the parties as too far away from their views to be worth even considering voting for.

The key to understanding how to fix it is to recognize that civil libertarians would never have tolerated apartheid and the stripping away of labor rights. If the remaining members of the coalition want to get  liberals back on board, people they generally agree with, they need to undo this. As long as they don't, they will not have the power to solve the issues dearest to them.

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"It's the economy, stupid."

(Not calling you stupid, BTW, just quoting the Clinton campaign)

I disagree. As for the liberal wing, Obama tried to throw them a huge bone by ramming a broadly unpopular national healthcare plan through. Unfortunately, Obama made a crucial error in that he did not lead. He handed the entire process over to the congressional leadership, who were entirely in the pockets of lobbyists, whi then in turn made the whole thing a giant turd that no one likes.

The bigger issue is the poor condition of the economy, and the fact that Obama has not addressed it in any effective manner. Unemployment is officially hovering at 10%, it has not shown any signs of getting better, and the administration pats itself on the back that it isn't worse. People are worried about their own long term prospects.

Meanwhile, at the same time people are losing their jobs and their homes, they are seeing other groups of people paid with their tax dollars who are not sharing in the community's fortunes. My local school district tried to pass a budget with a double digit tax increase this past year! The local teachers union didn't want to give up the 6%-8% raises they had negotiated and complained about it to a community where people were worried about whether they'd have a job. This is fundamentally idiotic. You don't complain that your steak was well done instead of medium to the guy that can only afford a cheese sandwich. People are losing their jobs, and a group making between 80k and 160k is complaining that the unemployed aren't taxed enough to give them raises.

Something has got to change.

Re: "It's the economy, stupid."

Teachers starting at $80k? Post the link or take your Faux BS somewhere else.

If you're talking about salaries for a handful of senior staff, that's still BS. You may as well say "WalMart employees don't deserve raises; they get $35 million a year".

Re: "It's the economy, stupid."

Pop quiz. During the Healthcare Reform debate, Rahm Emmanuel, apparently speaking with the approval of the President, described which group as "fucking retarded"?

1. The Tea Party, who had been mounting protests against government spending during a recession/depression.
2. The previous administration, for leaving the country in a hopeless mess by wasting trillions on unnecessary and arguably illegal wars, while doing nothing to improve the economy at home.
3. Liberals, for making it clear they'd run campaign ads against Democrats who voted for the final HCR bill.

If you answered (1) or (2) you're at least being consistent, but the answer is, of course, (3). Liberals weren't been "thrown a bone" by Obama with the HCR bill, they were being boned.

The wish of liberals to see real, meaningful, restructuring of the healthcare system had already been heavily compromised by the modified "Romneycare" system that was proposed at the beginning of the HCR debate, but liberals had been thrown a few cookie crumbs at the time to make it palatable, notably (and most importantly) a "Public Option" which would prevent anyone from being forced to buy overpriced insurance from the same crooks that have been running the scam for the last few decades. By the time it was put up for a vote, in one of the biggest bait and switches in political history (though nothing like as big as the "The United States Government does not torture"/Private Manning one) everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING, that liberals had been promised to make Romneycare palatable had been taken out and the bill had been turned into a healthcare insurer bailout bill.

From the right, it may have looked like Obama was helping liberals, because, well, healthcare is largely a liberal thing, but if you'd listened to actual liberals at the time, you'd have seen the problem. It would have been better, for us, if Obama had failed in trying to push through genuinely liberal reforms, than that he succeeded in pushing through the disaster that was passed.

To address your wider point: I think swing voters do make up a sizable part of the electorate, which is the only group that would be affected by the economy but not as much as it's made out to be, largely because in US politics most eligable voters stay at home. In 2010, the causes of the economic collapse were still in people's minds, very few people who weren't Republicans already were going to tell themselves "Hey, the economy still stinks, and it's been A YEAR AND A HALF."

So what happened? Well, look at 2008. McCain, who had swung far to the right but was still seen as a liberal by conservative standards, was running for office. Many conservatives stayed at home, not seeing him as "one of them". Many other conservatives also stayed at home because he picked an utter imbecile as a running mate, with McCain's age meaning there was a very real possibility she would become President. At the same time, Obama had rebuilt a coalition that had fragmented during the Clinton administration. Clinton had survived and won election because he'd attracted some conservatives to make up for the lack of liberals voting for him, something Gore could barely hold on to. Obama, and to a greater extent Bush, brought liberals back into the Democratic Party fold, promising substantive healthcare reforms as usual (albeit the exact opposite of what was passed) but more importantly promising a break with the previous administration on the critical moral issues.

By 2010, the conservatives who wouldn't vote for McCain/Palin had little reason not to vote for their preferred congressional representatives. Meanwhile, the liberals who'd voted for Obama were no longer able to stomach voting for Obama.

That's a lethal combination.

If it were 2012, and the economy was still a shambles, I'd agree with you, but it's too soon after 2008, the Republicans haven't attracted any new ideological groups, and the Democrats have gone out of their way to undermine and even insult one of the key groups that voted for Obama in 2008.

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