Weak knees keep shaking

WEAK KNEES KEEP SHAKING…. In Tuesday’s congressional races, voters sent two more House Democrats to Congress, expanding an already-large Democratic majority on the Hill. In 2008, the electorate made a House Democratic majority bigger, and in 2009, Dems went five for five in special elections, making that majority bigger still.

And looking over today’s headlines, the moral of the story is that congressional Democrats should be panicked about recent events.

McClatchy reports “already-skittish moderate Democrats” now have “fresh reasons … to worry.” The Washington Post reports that Democrats are “nervous” and “moderate and conservative Democrats took a clear signal from Tuesday’s voting, warning that the results prove that independent voters are wary of Obama’s far-reaching proposals and mounting spending, as well as the growing federal debt.” Politico reports that Democratic incumbents “from red states and Republican-leaning districts” are “worried.” The LA Times reports that Dems on the Hill are “anxious,” and will now resist the White House’s ambitious policy agenda.

Because nothing impresses voters more than timid lawmakers who aren’t building a record of accomplishments.

Now, it’s possible that some of this is just media hype — the “resurgent Republican” meme seems to have been decided on well in advance of the actual election results — but all of these articles included plenty of quotes from hand-wringing Democratic lawmakers, some named and some anonymous, nearly all of whom seem to be looking for an excuse not to do any heavy lifting.

The New York Times’ report struck a slightly different tone.

Blaming election setbacks on a drop in voter enthusiasm, Congressional Democrats said Wednesday that losses in governors’ races in Virginia and New Jersey — and a striking House win in New York — should give new urgency to their legislative agenda, including a sweeping health care overhaul.

As they assessed the results, Democratic lawmakers and party strategists said their judgment was that voters remained very uneasy about the economy and did not see Democrats producing on the health, energy and national security changes they promised when voters swept them to power only a year ago.

“Most of us ran on that,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia and president of the party’s freshman class. “We must deliver. I need to give Democrats something to be excited about.”

Every one of the articles this morning highlighted the motivated, active Republican base. And yet, most of the panicky center-right Dems who want to slam on the brakes seemed to have no interest at all in generating any excitement within the Democratic base.

This doesn’t seem especially complicated. Voters handed Democrats a huge majority, not to sit on their hands, but to deliver on their agenda. A year from now, lawmakers will have to tell their constituents something about how (and whether) they took advantage of the opportunity. Do any of these vulnerable incumbents seriously think they’re better off with a depressed, unmotivated base and a short list of legislative accomplishments? Dems fared well in 2008 when young, minority, urban, and suburban Democrats and independents turned out in droves. Does the party think they’ll thrive if these folks stay home?

If Dems had lost the special elections, the weak knees would be easier to understand. But this year, given a choice, voters sent more Democrats to the Hill, giving the party a better chance at passing its agenda.

The party should take “yes” for an answer.