The Democrats are doing a pretty good job of mimicking the cowardly lion in "The Wizard of Oz." They lack courage and, while we're at it, could also do with a good dose of righteous anger. If the shoe was on the other foot and Trump had lost the election but won the popular vote by almost 3 million; if the FBI had muddied the waters at the last minute with a groundless investigation of him; and if WikiLeaks had serially released embarrassing emails hacked from the Republican National Committee's server, all hell would have broken lose within the GOP and right-wing media.
Now, add to this hypothetical scenario the report issued by our intelligence services that the hostile government of Russia was behind the email hacking because it favored Clinton. To compound matters even more, also include the evidence that some of the "fake news" that impacted the election could be traced to the Kremlin. This string of onerous events would have triggered Republican caterwauling that raged from sea to shining sea and continued until well after the inauguration.
Instead, what we got was a less-than-furious response from the Democrats. Seven Democratic senators on the Senate intelligence committee politely requested more information "concerning the Russian Government and the U.S. election" and wanted it to be declassified and released to the public. Can you feel the anger? Three Democratic Senators — Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont — called for the creation of an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate Russian interference in the election. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, anxious to curry favor with the president-elect and not wanting to delegitimize his election, has blocked any such commission.
To his credit, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, did charge that the one-sided leaking of emails proved "The Russians were … seeking to damage Secretary Clinton, and in so doing, assist their preferred candidate, Donald Trump."
Perhaps, the lack of passion from Democrats can be traced to President Obama, ever the cautious one. When he first learned of the Russian hacking in September, he told Vladimir Putin to, quote, "Cut it out." At the time, Obama's main concern was that our voting systems weren't hacked as well. As Election Day drew near, he then feared that any announcements or actions about the hacking might unfairly favor the Democratic Party. Can you imagine a Republican president having such a concern?
In retrospect, when Obama first learned of the hacking in September, he should have publicized it and then clandestinely ordered a hack of the Russian electrical grid that would have caused the lights to flicker in Red Square. That's the only kind of language Putin understands.
Perhaps predictably, one of the angriest politicians has been a Republican. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Arizona, claimed Russia's meddling in the election amounted to an "act of war," and held a hearing last week on Russia's cyberthreats to American democracy.
Why the Democrats' timidity? For one, they are still shell-shocked over the election results. But more importantly, they lack a fire in their bellies comparable to what members of the GOP Freedom Caucus share. These Tea Partiers arrive in Washington on an urgent mission to change the way it operates and won't brook any obstacles. Unlike Democrats, they understand that you can't bring a knife to a gun fight.
Bernie Sanders proved that the progressive message still resonates, especially among the young. His rallies had a passion that the Democrats need to tap into again in 2018. Only this time, they also have to embrace those disenchanted members of the working class who flocked to Trump in 2016 and have been betrayed.
The larger issue for Democrats is that they lack a cadre of zealous followers who believe in the progressive cause and are willing to run for office. Republicans now hold 33 governorships and control legislatures in 25 states. For the long haul, this is more profound than who is now in the White House or controls Congress. Just as any successful major league baseball team depends on a strong minor league system, Democrats need up-and-coming talent as town mayors and council members, county commissioners and executives, state legislators and governors.
The Democratic National Committee requires a grass-roots effort to recruit the leaders of tomorrow. When it selects its new chairperson in February, building a strong back bench of Manny Machados has to be its biggest priority.
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Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.