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Cover Story

Big Red Lies

Does democracy stand a chance against the Republican Party's dishonest strategy?

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This is no way for a democracy to function. Indeed, there's no way our democracy can function in such an environment. Our regime was designed specifically to curb factionalism and force a slow, deliberate legislative process. The consequences of Washington's failure lie all around us, in the warming climate and ballooning debt, in the fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that await us at year's end, in the inability to pass a meaningful jobs bill the last two years even as employment lagged.

For once the media is right: Both sides are at fault, but for vastly different reasons.

For the last few years – indeed, for the last few decades – Democrats have lived in fear of their own shadows, allowing congressional Republicans, and the revanchist base that controls them, to dictate the terms of our debate.

Case in point: In his speech at the Democratic Nat-ional Convention, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick had to remind party delegates, "It's time for Democrats to stiffen our backbone and stand up for what we believe." That's not the sort of thing you should hear at a pep rally. Rather, it's an acknowledgement of a longstanding problem.

And then there was Bill Clinton, whose rhetorical mastery perhaps overshadowed his most stinging indictment of Romney's budgetary callousness: the devastating Medicaid cuts. Medicaid, the program that helps the disabled, seniors in nursing homes and children with the misfortune of having been born to poor parents, would be gutted by more than a third – more than $800 billion – under the Romney-Ryan plan, dropping as many as 27 million people from its rolls.

This is a fundamentally moral issue about what kind of a society we want to be. And yet, until Clinton, we'd heard nary a word about it throughout the course of the campaign, or about the poor in general, lest Democrats be branded coddlers of an underclass of leeches.

That's a failure of leadership.

On some level, though, that finally seems to be changing. If you got the sense last week that Democrats had found their mojo, perhaps that's because they've finally decided to act like Democrats instead of shrinking violets. Perhaps it was borne of political desperation, but in recent months we've seen the president embrace gay marriage, granted a de facto amnesty to some young, undocumented immigrants, push an aggressive jobs agenda (which, of course, went nowhere), and forcefully begin to defend health care reform and the auto industry bailout. His convention speech last Thursday almost sounded like a defense of liberalism itself, though he didn't dare speak that l-word: