With such a plethora of information available a few clicks away, it is becoming easier and easier to get a little learning for oneself. But as Alexander Pope reminds us –
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
A shallow drink from the internets tells me that Democrats had majorities in the House and Senate, and support from all the national polls, for reversing the Bush tax cuts, creating a universal health care system, etc. Since they didn’t, they are spineless corporate whores because despite majorities in congress and majorities of Americans supporting liberal positions, they can’t force their agenda through. This is good rhetoric for raising money and rallying the troops, and so is attractive terminology for front-line activists. Indeed, it may have its purpose in that way.
But drink deeper and you’ll notice a few things. First, it takes less than a quarter of the US population to earn enough Senators to paralyze the Senate, and that quarter is concentrated in conservative states. Thus, national polls are irrelevant when it comes to what to expect in the Senate.
Second, the breakdown of letters in the Senate is also misleading. The electoral gains Democrats made in the Senate before the most recent elections made them seem more powerful than they really were. What it comes down to is this – a Democrat like Jon Tester or Max Baucus is not bound to follow national polling, but the opinions in his or her own state. When Democrats seem spineless, in most instances they are merely representing their constituents. Before 2010, there were 9 Republicans representing Blue states, but 23 Democrats representing Red states. What does that mean? Democrats were under much more pressure to moderate their positions than Republicans in their home states, the only place that matters. Again, lending itself the the impression that Democrats don’t stand for anything, when in fact they are standing for what their constituents generally believe in, not their national parties or national polls.
The lesson? It’s easy to get big-picture analysis at your fingertips. However, sometimes the big picture isn’t as relevant as what’s going on in our back yards; especially when our backyard is as poorly covered by the national media as ours is. It doesn’t matter how many protest votes we cast against moderate Democrats, and it doesn’t matter how many Republicans we elect to punish Democrats for being too lukewarm. Montanans believe certain things, and while we as progressives can fervently hope that their beliefs will drift further in line with ours, we should nonetheless be understanding when our politicians vote to represent the voters within their jurisdictions, not what pollsters say is popular on a national level.