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If you stay at home...

Another body blow?
Another body blow?
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

During the Presidential campaign of 1948, at a Labor Day Address in Detroit, President Truman told the assembled labor leaders that should a Republican Congress and a Republican President be elected that year, labor could expect “a steady barrage of body blows”. “And,” he said, “if you stay at home as you did in 1946, you will deserve every blow you get!”

Notoriously, in 2010 Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and narrowed the Democrats’ margin in the Senate. How did they do this? By formulating plans of governance that appealed to a greater number of voters than did the Democrats? By convincing the electorate that they had better programs for the deficit, for healthcare, for defense, for foreign policy than did the Democratic Congress and the Democratic President? Did they simply field better candidates than did the Democrats? No…none of these things.

Democrats stayed home.

This was not considered unusual. Democrats, we are told, don’t vote in off-year elections. Conservative, mostly white, mostly older voters go to the polls to elect their Congressmen, Senators and Governors. It seems Democrats are only interested in electing Presidents. With the result that, in 2010, Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives and the country was sentenced to four years of John Boehner as Speaker.

Of course, it isn’t always true that Democrats lose off year elections. In 1998, even in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal, Democrats gained seats in both the House and Senate. And in the 2006 mid-term elections, Democrats actually seized control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years.

So it would appear it’s indeed possible for Democrats to win mid-term elections.

In 2010, we are told, there were other reasons Democrats didn’t turn out. Liberals, we are told, were disappointed in President Obama. For example, his healthcare initiative didn’t include a single payer system…or even a public option. He tried too hard to compromise with Republicans…something he’d campaigned on in 2008. And blah…and blah…and blah. The plain fact of the matter was that Barack Obama wasn’t liberal enough for the liberals in his party.

Willie Brown…former Speaker of the California State Assembly and Mayor of San Francisco…once said that a liberal is someone who, when offered 95% of what he wants, will refuse it because it isn’t 100%. So it was in 2010. And so we came to the pass we find ourselves in today.

We are offered another chance in 2014. The Republicans, we are told, stand an excellent chance both holding their majority in the House and winning control of the Senate. This in spite of Republicans being, well, Republicans. We don’t have to imagine the unmitigated hell our party…and our country…will suffer should this come to pass. And if Democrats fight, if we simply come out to vote, it will NOT come to pass.

But if we stay home as we did in 2010, we deserve every blow we get.