Joan Walsh: How the Democrats Shellacked Themselves





[Joan Walsh is Salon's editor in chief.]

It had to happen this way. In the wake of a self-described electoral "shellacking," President Obama's first crucial test will be deciding whether he'll hold his ground on extending the Bush tax cuts only for the working and middle class, or whether he'll cave to Republican demands that they go to the wealthiest Americans, too. On Fox News Sunday, Eric Cantor said there's no room for compromise; the GOP opposes "decoupling" breaks for the rich from breaks for the rest of us.

The smart money may be on Obama caving to the GOP....

Why? Because the alternative -- Obama caving -- is unthinkable, politically. It would extend the last 30 years of class warfare -- the rich against the rest of us -- indefinitely. It would doom the Democrats for the foreseeable future. And it could throw the country back into the recession from which it's barely recovered, since paying more money to the uber-rich would make spending on jobs or any other kind of recovery measures almost impossible.

Democrats could be doomed either way. Almost a week after the election, the blame game for the party's losses in the House and Senate rages on. Conservative party leaders like Evan Bayh blame Obama for going too far with his agenda; progressives say he didn't go far enough. I happen to side with progressives, yet bickering over the complicated dynamics that tilted 435 House races, dozens of Senate and gubernatorial contests and literally thousands of state and local races one way or the other seems like a waste of time. We have to keep our eye on the big picture: Democrats have been caving to Republicans on crucial economic issues since the days of Jimmy Carter, and their electoral weakness is directly tied to those cave-ins....

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