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Voices / Column

That huge and ugly Democratic betrayal

It’s bad enough that the Republicans have treated President Obama so horribly. But shame on those in his own party for the stunning rebuff.

Saxtons River

The day after last month’s election, after I picked myself up from the floor and stopped pulling my hair out, I had a fantasy. It went like this:

Michelle Obama walks to a podium, somber and clearly containing her anger. She pans the room, pauses, and says, “I’m going to take a risk. Many of you won’t like what I have to say. My handlers will hate it. But I’m going to throw away my script and speak from the heart.

“My husband did not deserve the terrible, bruising rebuff he suffered in the election. No president in modern history has had to suffer the levels of disrespect and attacks on his character and abilities, nor has any president I can recall had so many crises to deal with simultaneously.

“And no president in our history has been subjected to the incipient racism that is part of America’s underbelly.

“Whatever you think of him, or his policy decisions and actions, he did nothing to warrant the horrific way he’s been treated, and he did not deserve to be betrayed by his fellow Democrats such that Republicans — many of whom should have their characters and abilities examined — swept into unquestioned power, something I think we will all come to regret.”

The First Lady could not say this, much as she might have fantasized doing so.

But those of us who are not public figures can. And we should, because what happened in the last election was unconscionable.

It was also deeply dangerous because it has led us one step closer to the demise of democracy and the rise of an American oligarchy. Anyone who thinks that won’t happen, or doesn’t matter, will learn too late that they got what they didn’t vote for.

* * *

Less than 40 percent of Americans voted in the midterm elections. That’s not surprising if you consider the history of midterms, but it is alarming: History also tells us that passivity is the path to the abuse of power.

Why did people vote against their own interests? Why did they re-elect those who screw them out of needed support systems? Why do they endorse politicians who are in trouble with the law?

Here’s what I really don’t get. Why did Democrats run so far from their president and the values he represents? Why not campaign on those values and tout the president’s achievements?

What was the Democratic debacle, that huge and ugly betrayal, about?

Here are just some of the achievements I wish the Dems had campaigned on and that voters should have been reminded to consider.

President Obama reduced the unemployment rate from over 10 percent when he took office to 5.8 percent. There are now over 3.5 million private-sector jobs that didn’t exist during the Bush recession, and there is huge reduction in the deficit. The U.S. auto industry still exists. The president also stood up to Wall Street and helped avert a global financial collapse.

Under his administration, the tax rates for average working families are the lowest since 1950; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cut taxes for 95 percent of America’s working families.

The president has understood that women and gays are people, too. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, instituting equal pay for women. He expanded funding for the Violence Against Women Act and appointed two pro-choice women to the Supreme Court.

He repealed “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and appointed more openly gay officials than anyone in history. He also extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees and changed HUD rules to prohibit gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing.

President Obama also made us a little safer. He eliminated Osama bin Laden, disrupted Al Qaeda terrorist plots, toppled Moammar Gadhafi, ended two wars, and helped restore America’s reputation around the world. He signed an executive order banning torture and put the U.S. in compliance with the Geneva Convention.

He addressed education and health care head on. The president increased funding for student financial aid, and he cut banks out of the process by reforming student loan rates and expanding the Pell Grants program providing opportunities for low-income students. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he invested in all levels of education, including Head Start.

With the Affordable Health Care Act, President Obama expanded health insurance coverage to 30 million more people, expanded Medicaid, and reduced Medicare costs. He increased federal support for biomedical and stem cell research. He increased the number of children covered by health insurance by four million and extended COBRA health coverage for the unemployed.

The president might not have addressed climate change adequately, but he strengthened environmental protection through new laws and policies. He fast-tracked regulations to increase fuel-efficiency standards and ordered energy plants to plan for producing at least 15 percent of all energy through renewable resources.

* * *

It would take another column to record all that the Obama administration has done to make our country safer, healthier, better educated, more economically sound, and more respected within the international community.

Still, these facts alone should have been enough to keep Democrats from abandoning a president who — like all former presidents, and human beings — is not perfect.

That they behaved so badly is the truly stunning surprise of the 2014 midterm elections.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #284 (Wednesday, December 10, 2014). This story appeared on page D1.

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