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Spitzer: Democrats Do Best When They Stand Up To The GOP

ELIOT SPITZER: Much as I am hesitant about end of year pronouncements and observations, I thought I would make just a few, because there are a couple of lessons worth retaining from this past year.

First, we saw the end of the electoral power at the national level of the Republican Party’s theologically rigid right-wing agenda.

Romney’s embrace of the social and economic agenda of the more rabid base of his party in the primary season doomed him: from the shrill immigration rhetoric to the harshly insensitive theory that no additional sacrifice or contribution should be sought from those at the top. Even as he tried to move away from the sharpest edges of this primary rhetoric, the damage was done, and the public said, “We do not see this as a principled way to govern.”

Romney’s defeat was not simply the arithmetic of voting blocs, it was the larger statement that “we all did build this.” The sense of community in our politics and society re-asserted itself against the hard individualism of the Republican right, hence the near certainty that Congress will enact immigration reform and tax rates that require the wealthiest to pay more.

In the aftermath of the election, it seems clear that the two theologians of the Republican Party — Grover Norquist on taxes, and Wayne LaPierre on guns — are now struggling. This is good for our politics.

Second, the flip side of this: The president did best and crafted his majority when he spoke to true progressive values. During much of his first term he was quite tepid in his embrace of those values and his numbers were flat. The public disengaged from his efforts.

But when he finally spoke up on the agenda that the public cares about — from same-sex marriage to immigration reform to a fair distribution of the burdens of paying for our future — the public responded.

The lesson is clear: The timorous politics of so many Democrats who feel compelled to rush to the middle, to be meek, to shy away from the agenda of change that is needed, is not only wrong substantively, it is wrong politically.

Third, revolutions are messy things. The initial euphoria of the Arab Spring, the most important foreign policy event of the past several years, has now been replaced by the grind of upheaval that has no clear direction. Yet the move towards secular society does seem to have traction. The desire for freedom as we understand it seems to be real.

Surely there are countervailing forces: The Islamists’ desire to impose an intolerant theology is a powerful and threatening force. Yet, in Egypt and elsewhere the foundation of democracy and freedom is visible, if under threat.

Whether the state of Egypt ends up replicating Pakistan — we hope not — or Turkey — we hope so — it surely will not be Iran. The Middle East is quite simply still a mess, from Syria to Iran. Yet the arc of progress, as it is said, does appear to be moving in the right direction.

Fourth, just because I can’t resist coming back to this issue at least briefly, our financial system is still fraught with structural problems and behavior that cuts away at the core integrity of the fiduciary duty that should define financial transactions. From insider trading to Libor bid-rigging to analysts still shilling for IPOs they have an interest in, the problems continue.

It is part human nature, part our failure to sanction properly when we need to, part our government’s failure to have the backbone to restructure that which is clearly unstable and flawed. We still haven’t learned the lesson. Perhaps the only good news there is that it gives us something to talk about when we turn the corner into next year.

What a year it has been. And while 2013 will not see a major national election in this country, we can be sure that most Republicans will obstruct and some Democrats will appease. We can be sure that the Middle East will continue to be a source of vexing questions that need solutions. And we can be very sure that Wall Street will not solve itself. Which is why I will be here every weekday night to drill down deep and deliver my views on what matters most.

Have a wonderful holiday and a wonderful New Year.

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