Disappointed, Disaffected Dems

Salena Zito

11/7/2010 12:01:00 AM - Salena Zito

David Goodman had no idea his 19-year-old son, Harris, had registered as a Democrat more than a year ago, until the young man mentioned it on election night.

“Really?” Goodman half-asked, half-joked. “I was feeling it at the time,” Harris replied with a grin. The Vassar sophomore sat with his father for hours in a Holiday Inn banquet room, waiting to see if Pat Toomey would become Pennsylvania’s new U.S. senator-elect. Harris definitely was “feeling it” Tuesday for Republican Toomey. So was his father, a native New Yorker and self-described “dyed-in-the-wool Democrat” who settled his family in Allentown around the time Billy Joel wrote a song about the city that became an anthem of blue-collar America. In the midst of the confetti and the overall fawning of the 2008 presidential election and the Democrats’ control of Congress, most pundits suffered collective amnesia about what happened to the party on its way to back-to-back election victories. In 2006’s midterm takeover of Congress, moderate to conservative Democrats won in competitive House districts, then were led by a House speaker from very progressive San Francisco. In 2008’s cantankerous presidential primary process, a very smart Barack Obama shored up delegates and super-delegates in state caucuses (which were dominated by party elites and activists), causing Hillary Clinton to lose the party’s nomination despite winning the popular vote (which was dominated by traditional and working-class Democrats).

In January 2009, very powerful but very fractured Democrats took to the national stage, confident that a charismatic president would heal – or at least hide – their party’s wounds.

“They could not have been more wrong,” said the elder Goodman. “The direction the Democrats have taken this country is counter to our natural center-right compass.

“I supported the presidency of Barack Obama, I wanted him to succeed. I thought it would be good for the country.

“He has turned out to be a great disappointment.”

The younger Goodman, dressed in a USA Olympic hockey sweater with a “Toomey for Senate” sticker on his chest, agrees – contradicting the conventional wisdom about how young people love Obama and Democrats.

To state the obvious, this was a great year for the GOP in Pennsylvania: Five U.S. House seat pickups, plus a U.S. Senate seat, plus control of the state House, Senate and governor’s office.

“It was a tough night,” admits U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who grew up a little more than an hour north of here.

Casey was part of that moderate-Democrat recruitment of 2006; he beat incumbent Republican Rick Santorum largely because his values were considered pretty close to Pennsylvanians as a whole. (The “D” after his name only gave him greater cachet with unions.)

Casey ran as a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat. He was the first and only statewide elected official to endorse Obama when he ran against Clinton in the 2008 primary; although Obama lost by nearly 10 points, their friendship was forged.

In Philadelphia just days before last Tuesday’s election, the president sought Casey’s advice between campaign stops at Temple University and the Famous 4th Street Deli. Casey told him Washington doesn’t understand the depth of Americans’ anxiety.

“In ten years we have not only had a horrible terror attack, but terrorism is constantly on our minds,” Casey explained. “Add that to two wars, the economy diving and China emerging as this world leader in a lot of things we used to lead in, and you have widespread anxiety.”

Casey also told the president that Washington must do a better job of listening.

You don’t need an exit poll to tell you Democrats just cratered with the white working class; the 400-mile drive along winding back roads from Pittsburgh to the Lehigh Valley told that story in the lack of political yard signs in working-class cities and towns.

Progressives can’t imagine that their Democrat-cousins did not get behind the party, largely because they don’t understand that traditional Democrats rarely see eye-to-eye with them on their signature issue – that government knows better than you do.

Progressives believe everyone else lives in some alternative universe. They also believe they are morally right, morally justified – precisely the arrogance that turns off the rest of the country.

David Goodman holds out no hope that Obama will move to the center.

“More than likely he will decide to try to fortify his liberal base before re-election,” he predicts, “rather than examine the evidence the American people just landed on his doorstep.”