Cross-country: Two types of Democrats

Campaign 2010

Through five states in two days I had not run into many Americans who had pleasant things to say about the Democratic leadership in Washington.

While setting up the itinerary for my cross-country trip, I purposely had not asked the party affiliation of the individual community leaders I wanted to visit. And yet most people from Pennsylvania to Indiana had mostly complaints about Washington's current majority party (to be honest, they are not too happy with Republicans either).

But entering Illinois for day three of my trip, I thought I just might run into some true blue state devotees. After all, this is President Obama's home turf.

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By the end of my Windy City visit, I discovered that two types of Democrats reside in the greater Chicago area.

Two years into the Obama administration, Evan Kane, 41, a Democrat from Deerfield, Ill., said he has learned that it doesn't really matter who gets elected. The results, to him, are the same: disappointment.

"This was the time we could have had real social change," Kane, a real estate broker told me. Kane said the new healthcare law, among other things, did not go far enough. He wanted a public option.

His frustration at Washington sounded very similar to the conservative anger I'd encountered in other states. Both groups are fed up with the cast of characters making up the political status quo. But Kane's disgust has its roots in his belief that Democrats under reached, not overreached. "I really thought he would be able to deliver," Kane said referring to Obama. "Or did he just say those things to get elected."

Kane added that he will not be an active volunteer for the party for this November' midterm elections. And he said he is not alone among the liberals in his community.

But in another Chicago-area suburb a few miles away, another Democrat argued that liberals have had a successful two-year run topped off by healthcare reform. Diane Rudy, a 60ish resident of Highland Park, said most Democrats are pleased with Congress' recent accomplishments. But she added that the party has lost the public relations battle.

Republicans, she said, have succeeded in making their message connect with the voters. They have made their arguments against bigger government the main national narrative heading into this year's elections.

"Democrats have not been able to connect with people," Rudy said.

Both types of Democrats I encountered---those like Kane who are angry that the party leaders did not do enough and those like Rudy who believe that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid failed to strike a chord with middle America---do agree on one thing: Democrats could suffer big losses at the polls this November.

Follow Lee's reports as he travels from Washington, D.C., to Washington state.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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