Those who know me well understand that I’m a pretty sensitive guy. I tear up during sad movies, and births and weddings invariably make me a little verklempt. When people around me get upset, I generally become miserable unless I succeed in raising their spirits. But even I, Mr. Sensitivity, can see that kindness and compassion have certain limitations, particularly for the nation’s democratic leadership. As a liberal who hoped things would be different in Washington after the last election, I’m outraged at the Democrats’ inability to enact any real change whatsoever, despite control of the executive branch and both houses of Congress. I mean it with sincere sensitivity when I say Democrats seriously need to grow a pair.

In countless failed attempts at bipartisanship, Democrats have allowed themselves to be trampled by Republicans. They prefer to fantasize about everyone getting along, while obstinate Republicans are only “in it to win it.” Part of the problem may be that Democrats who fight like Republicans don’t get elected. When Howard Dean yeehawed during a 2004 presidential campaign speech, he was mocked by established liberals as radical and inflammatory. But when Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina screamed, “You lie!” during one of President Barack Obama’s Congressional addresses, $1.8 million in campaign contributions flowed his way the following week.

Despite the fact that the democratic congressional majority was voted into power by constituents largely expecting meaningful health care reform, the congressmen have since been unwilling — not unable — to make marked change. Rather than coming up with a feasible health care plan similar to those in most other wealthy nations, Democrats have pandered to conservatives and private interests, muddying up real reform with stupid concessions to the health care industry. They’ve given up so quickly!

Without entirely viewing the legislative process as a zero-sum game, Democrats ought to start fighting a little dirtier. Or for that matter, a little more like the Republicans. After all, the GOP somehow managed to get us into a needless war in Iraq with far less power than the Democrats currently have. Why can’t Democrats accomplish what Americans actually need and want?

Moreover, Democrats have abandoned their principles for the sake of “reaching consensus.” Last winter’s stimulus package was gutted to appease just two republican senators — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine — at the expense of creating real financial relief for individual states. It’s not politics, it’s pussyfooting.

And Obama is as guilty as Congress. As a nation, we’re considerably worse off than where we were a year ago. And while much of that change is beyond Obama’s control, it can’t be ignored that the president has failed to accomplish the bulk of changes he needs to — even the ones he promised during last year’s campaign.

For starters, the ambiguity of outlined proposals for withdrawal from Iraq is unsatisfying. I understand the need to keep troops in Afghanistan, and even to take time in order to responsibly leave Iraq, but Obama hasn’t exactly taken the anti-war stance that his supporters expected.

Furthermore, he never should have dropped the idea of a single-payer system for universal health coverage. Though a single-payer arrangement is the lynchpin of cohesive universal coverage, Obama left it behind as soon as the slightest opposition arose. Even if he would have ultimately had to give it up, Obama should have realized that this was his greatest bargaining chip and held out longer. In his dealings with Congress, Obama should channel President Lyndon Johnson and understand that he can’t satisfy everyone. He has great ideas, but he gets too hung up on getting everyone on board.

As a tried and true liberal, I’m tired of always having to defend the Democrats when they have aren’t willing to hold up their side of the bargain. It’s still obvious that in spite of their current ineffectiveness, the Democrats are the better of the two American parties. Conservative leadership would be the worst choice for getting us out of a financial mess that conservative ideology helped create, and would probably just piss off the international community.

The Democrats’ political philosophy is just what this country needs, but their sensitive sidestepping is not. Democrats need to accept that their actions will upset a lot of Americans, and that that’s okay. And once they do so, ironically enough, I’m confident that their constituents will respect them infinitely more.

Matthew Green can be reached at greenmat@umich.edu.

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