It was bittersweet night for Oklahoma Democrats on Tuesday.
There was jubilation among the watch party crowd at the Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City over the historic election of the country’s first African-American president, Barack Obama.
But in many state races, the Democrats didn’t fare so well. The Republicans gained a small majority in the State Senate, and Democrat Andrew Rice lost in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. In addition, Democrats Jim Roth and Charles Gray lost their races for seats on the Corporation Commission. Democrat Ron Marlett was unable to beat controversial state Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City). One bit of positive news was the easy reelection of U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, the only Democrat in Oklahoma’s Washington delegation.
The country turned in a new direction as a majority of Oklahoma voters made sure the state retained its status as one of the reddest of red states. (I wrote about this issue recently in the Oklahoma Gazette. )
What this portends for Oklahoma is anyone’s guess right now. Much will depend on the condition of Oklahoma’s economy in coming months. Certainly, with majorities in the state House and Senate, Republicans will probably push ideology-based legislation that has failed in the past. There could even be more tax cuts for the state’s rich people on the horizon, though that depends on how tax revenues look at the start of the new legislative session next year. The Republicans will undoubtedly push a lawsuit immunity bill for corporations.
The state’s Washington delegation, working with President-elect Obama and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, will most likely be ineffective for Oklahomans. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn will probably bring the state even more unwanted national publicity as he tries to obstruct Obama-backed legislation even though the country has given the president-elect a clear mandate. Inhofe will probably make more outrageous statements about global warming. Nothing new here.
Still, Tuesday was a historic day throughout the world, country and in Oklahoma, and it was Democrats who made it happen.
It doesn’t matter if you live in Oklahoma City or New York City. If you voted for Obama and/or helped to elect him, you were on the right side of history Tuesday. If you’re a younger voter, this was a day you can recount to your future children and grandchildren.
Much has been written recently about the country’s huge disappointment in the Democratic-controlled Congress, which continues to enable the dysfunction of Imperial President George Bush.
Congress has an 11 percent approval rating, according to one poll. More Republicans approve of the “work” Congress is doing than Democrats. The Republicans effectively own the Democrats right now. The Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are not large enough to counter ultra-conservative Democrats, such as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (California), who has emerged as a Bush sycophant.
As Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald points out, Feinstein is the face of what is discouragingly wrong with the Democratic Party right now. She is a 74-year-old politician with absolutely nothing to lose politically. She represents California, a blue state. She is filthy rich. She could and should retire tomorrow and live a life of luxury. So why does she vote consistently with Republicans against her own party’s base? How does such a person qualify herself just in terms of consistency and logic alone?
As Greenwald points out, “What is so notable — and most revealing — about this is that Feinstein is a Democratic Senator from one of the most liberal states in the country. Conventional wisdom holds that she is a ‘liberal’ or at least a moderate. She came onto the national scene in the 1980s as the Mayor of San Francisco, one of the most liberal large cities in the nation, and was twice re-elected by San Francisco residents. In fairness, she casts some (usually futile) votes in favor of the standard Democratic agenda on issues such as the environment, gun control and the Military Commissions Act. And she’ll listlessly participate in investigations that go nowhere, even when the White House defies or outright ignores subpoenas. But what she does with the greatest conviction is supports right-wing Bush measures and, above all else, is an ardent defender of the Beltway power establishment.”
Last week, she voted to condemn the anti-war organization, Moveon.org, for running an advertisement critical of Gen. David Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, who recently pushed Bush and GOP talking points when he testified about the occupation. She has voted to ban habeas corpus in this country. Her husband is a defense contractor. She is a typical Beltway politician who is not distinguishable from most Republicans. She possesses no moral center in her politics.
Along with Feinstein, here are the Democratic Senators who voted against the basic concept of free speech in America by condemning the Moveon.org for publishing an advertisement critical of Petraeus: Max Baucus, Evan Bayh, Ben Cardin, Thomas Carper, Bob Casey Jr., Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, Tim Johnson, Amy Klobuchar, Herb Kohl, Mary Landrieu, Patrick Leahy, Blanche Lincoln, Claire McCaskill, Barbara Mikulski, Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, Mark Pryor, Ken Salazar, John Tester and Jim Webb.
These politicians have enshrined Petraeus as the quintessential Military Man of Integrity. In October, 2008, when he spouts more lies to Congress right before the elections, the Democrats will not be able to say a thing about him. You cannot celebrate a person’s integrity and then question his/her veracity later. It is simple logic.
All of this is quite discouraging, of course, and many Democrats are now pondering this personal question: Do I bail on the Democrats and become an independent knowing this may well give the 2008 national elections to the Republicans or do I stay and fight to reframe the values and ideals of the party?
Here is the only answer to that question: Fight. Fight to defeat politicians like Feinstein—and all the Democrats who voted against free speech last week—within the structure of the party. Defeat them in primary elections with real Democratic candidates. Californians could also urge Feinstein to retire. Only a Democratic sweep in the 2008 national elections will prevent this country from adopting some type of totalitarian government, which will no doubt be called “Thompson’s Freedom Pact” or some similar distorted slogan. Only a Democratic president and wider Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will stop the insidious extremism and intellectual reductionism of the neoconservatives.
In Oklahoma, one of the reddest of red states, this dilemma is exasperated tenfold. The corporate media here works openly to stifle real political debate. Yet there are brilliant points of light even here. For example, State Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City) is running against GOP tyrant U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. Rice is a true progressive who has opposed the Iraq occupation from the beginning. He represents a new generation of Democratic politicians who want to restore the integrity and the “difference” of the party when compared to the Republicans.
And it is okay to vent despite the weird arguments of people like Randi Rhodes, the Air America radio show host who would not allow her callers on Friday to complain about how Democrats voted with Republicans to stifle free speech. (She made quite a spectacle of herself, throwing out the f-bomb in the process.) It is paramount we mount massive campaigns to get politicians like Feinstein removed from office because we must change the party’s direction. But we must not ever forget this is part of the larger effort to fight Republicans, stop the occupation, restore fiscal sanity to government, provide decent health care to Americas, raise stagnant wages and bring back habeas corpus.
(Click here to donate a few dollars to help the Oklahoma Democratic Party.)
The Oklahoma Democratic Party has launched an online fundraising drive and its chairperson, Ivan Holmes, says the party has to “get back to the grassroots” if it wants to win in the 2008 elections.
According to Holmes, in a recent email, “For too long many Democrats have spent their time fighting one another instead of putting aside petty differences to do the work that is needed to elect Democrats. First and foremost, we must remember that we are a family that is over a million strong and together we can win every election in Oklahoma. All families have their disagreements, but only by joining together will the men, women and children of Oklahoma have a chance at a better life with good-paying jobs, access to quality healthcare, and a strong educational system.”
Holmes makes a great point. Democrats have the numbers in Oklahoma (“a million strong”), but too often they get divided over political direction and wedge issues. Perhaps, the most divisive debates are between conservative Democrats, who vote with Republicans on certain wedge issues, and progressive Democrats, who want to directly challenge the growing right-wing political juggernaut in the state. The conservatives might see it as them against the outspoken leftists in the party. The progressives might see it as them against the Dinos, or Democrats in name only.
This argument is impossible to reconcile, but it is always worth the debate. The problem is we cannot let this debate or ongoing dialogue—and it will go on and on—or other arguments divide us. All nationwide indicators show the Democratic Party is on a staggering rise. The party’s major presidential candidates, for example, are raising far more money than their Republican counterparts. Imperial President George Bush’s approval rating is plummeting even in Oklahoma. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s approval ratings are also down. People are going to want a change in 2008.
Meanwhile, the ODP still faces a debt it accrued trying to get Brad Carson elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. Carson lost the race to the goofy Tom Coburn, who has embarrassed Oklahoma for the past three years with his outrageous comments and his weird political stunts. Carson ran as a conservative Democrat to the chagrin of progressives here, but that was in 2004 when Bush still had coattails. The political landscape in 2008 will be considerably different.
The reality is simply this: Democrats united behind their leading candidate in a U.S. Senate race, went into debt to support him, and he lost. There is no shame in that. We should pull together and pay off this debt right now.
The national Democrats—under Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy—are helping to fund the state party here, according to Holmes, who is not taking a salary. In addition, Blue Oklahoma, another local blog I operate, recently received a small grant to pay for its hosting fees from the progressive organization, Blogpac, which is an offshoot of this philosophy. As some of you might have noticed, the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is even running targeted ads on the site now.
All of this means the national Democrats are really making a concerted effort to help us out here in red states, and so we need to network and get busy. The foundation is set so we can show the nation in 2008 that Oklahoma has a viable Democratic Party.
(Click here to donate a few dollars to help the Oklahoma Democratic Party.)