If you think herding cats is difficult, try Democrats.

The election of a Republican to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat in the U.S. Senate has clearly illustrated the disarray of the Democratic Party.  Despite holding the White House, the House of Representatives and a super majority in the Senate, Democrats have been either unable or unwilling to accomplish much of the agenda they campaigned for. 

Faced with a financial industry so greedy that it nearly caused the collapse of the international economy, Democrats have failed to institute new regulations to prevent future problems.  Faced with millions of unemployed, they failed to pass a stimulus bill large enough to create jobs.  Faced with mounting foreclosures, they failed to force lenders to restructure loans.  Faced with millions of uninsured and more than 33,000 deaths each year for the lack of access to health care, Democrats let Republicans and Tea Party wingnuts control the dialogue about health reform.  They publicly cut deals with insurance companies and big Pharma.  They allowed a few Congressmen to include more restrictive language on abortion.  They allowed one senator to kill the public option despite polls showing that a public option is favored by a significant majority of Americans.  And they allowed another senator to hijack the bill in order to gain major concessions for his state. 

It’s not that our nation’s current problems were created by Democrats.  They weren’t.  And it’s true that the Republicans, whose policies led to the problems, were determined to block any initiatives by Democrats.  But the fact remains, in one full year, Democrats were unable to solve them.  And given the fleeting attention spans of most voters, in their minds, these ongoing problems are now the fault of Democrats.   

So where does the party go from here? 

In my opinion, Democrats must take a lesson from Republicans.  When it comes to legislation, Democrats must act as if they’re joined at the hip.  They must craft legislation in caucus meetings and not present it to the public until they can all support it – without fear of defections.  They must better present their ideas to the public and explain their benefits.  And they must learn to be as ruthless as Republicans in trying to achieve their goals.  No more “gangs of six” that include Republicans trying to undermine the legislation.  Democrats can make it clear that they will work with Republicans, but only if Republicans are willing to work with them.

And the President must change his approach.  Although he obviously envisions himself a modern-day Lincoln who will pull together both parties and the nation, he must finally realize that you can’t achieve bi-partisanship when there is no “bi.”  He must realize that Republicans are serious about their desire to see him fail.  He must become more involved in legislation and more clearly set a path for his party.  He must become the leader we voted for. 

Failing these kinds of changes, we’re likely to see Democrats, and the nation, flounder.  If that happens, voters will believe the Democratic Party is incapable of governing.  And they will be right.