By Nicholas Riebel, Staff Writer ||

My worst fears about the 2014 midterms came true: the GOP took over the Senate,  made gains in the House, and took more net governorships and more state legislatures (that is, the State Houses and State Senates and their equivalents).

Yes, this seemed to be a Tea Party triumph, in which the brave and noble forces of conservatism defeated the dreaded forces of liberalism. If you tuned into Fox News, this is what you would have heard: that this election is a repeat of 2010, except better. Voters have completely rejected Big Government, spending, taxes, and especially anything and everything to do with liberalism and left-wing politics.

Yet, something funny happened. In South Dakota, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Alaska (states which all elected Republicans for Senate, pending final results from Alaska), voters approved increases in the minimum wage (though this was non-binding in Alaska), which is an issue generally supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.

Why did this happen? I have my own theory, but there are a few important facts to get out there. This was a very Republican electorate — not because the much-coveted voters of the center decided to give the Tea Party more power but because Democrats didn’t get out and vote.

This was a very low-turnout midterm election, the kind the Republicans historically do very well in (2006 was a recently rare exception). The fact is that Democrats lost because they tried too hard to appeal to people who were unlikely to support them rather than running strongly on economic and social policies that would have a strong impact in Americans’ lives.

The Democratic Party chose what it thought would be a winning strategy: have candidates run on progressive issues with a great deal of support. In theory, this would work, if these issues actually resonated with a voting majority of Americans. Minimum wage increases, abortion protection, and gay marriage are all very important issues. But even this wasn’t enough.

The American people want affordable health care. They want to be able to afford college, whether for themselves or for their children, and perhaps even be able to afford graduate school. They want equal opportunity for everyone, no matter their socioeconomic level. They want better infrastructure, (much) higher paying jobs, a generous minimum wage adjusted to standard of living and inflation, and a government big enough to do its job: serve its people.

The fact is, the Third Way/New Democratic Wall Street faction of the party lost the midterms. Notice how the very centrist and pro-Wall Street supporter, who ran an extremely cautious campaign in terms of social and economic issues, barely won re-election when the polls showed him winning by double digits against an unheralded Republican challenger.

People hate gridlock and arguments, like what goes on in Washington, D.C. But believe it or not, I suspect voters are okay with a few heated discussions, and a few acrimonious debates if, at the end of the day, the government gets the job done, in making life better for all of us, not just the richest and most powerful among us.

Again: bipartisanship and cooperation is okay, but if the Republican party insists on gridlock and obstruction and killing good policy for its own electoral advantage (such as Obamacare, which should be fixed but not killed), why should Democrats continue to embrace this sort of humiliation and defeat? Working together only works if both sides are genuinely willing to do it, and the Republicans won’t unless they think it benefits them politically.

In Oregon, thanks to vote-by-mail, voter turnout was about 70 percent. Democrats won heavily, and recreational marijuana was legalized. Democrats need to push for this system in other states: push a stronger message that resonates with more of America. We need better candidates as well, and when they get elected, they should enact the reforms they push for, rather than forget about them or try to say they can’t defeat the Republicans on them. They should follow the prominent examples of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan: they didn’t waffle and triangulate and compromise unless absolutely necessary; they pushed their way through.

Now I am not necessarily advocating for “party purity tests” or saying the Democrats need to become like a liberal Tea Party. But say what you will about the Republicans: they promise conservative policies and they sure as heck deliver.

I do not expect my side to win this argument. Conservative Democrats and their New Democrat/Blue Dog/Third Way approach to elections failed. It’s time for a smarter strategy and better tactics. And remember what President Truman once said: “Given the choice between a Republican and (a Democrat) who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time.” Remember: it’s all about that base. The Democratic Party must stop being Wall Street’s second-favorite major party, and once again become the party of the people.

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