The leadership of the Democratic party reminds me of the classic fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin.
In 2002 and 2004, the party's leadership was like the miller's daughter. Trapped in the castle tower with the seemingly impossible task of trying to spin straw into election gold. In desperation, they turned for help to an ugly dwarf (the young, ideological, progressive grassroots). While the miller's daughter only promised Rumpelstiltskin her first born in exchange for his aid, the party leadership promised much more. They promised the progressives almost anything and everything: Ending torture, closing Guantanamo, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, universal health care with a strong public plan, the Employee Free Choice Act, troops out of Iraq, etc.
To the surprise of almost everyone, the progressive grassroots succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. They turned the pile of useless straw into political dominance gold. The netroots raised on unprecedented level of political donations with small online contributions. In four years, the Democrats went from 45 Senators to 60, won a huge majority in the House, and elected the first black president with a large mandate.
Now that the Democrats are at their most powerful in a generation, their Rumpelstiltskin has come to claim his prize. Like the miller's daughter, the elected Democrats are doing everything they can not to pay the price they promised. They are struggling futilely to guess the dwarf's true name (or find the proper PR spin to justify their broken promises and complete sell-out compromises). They hope some magic phrase will make their commitment go away.
The Democratic senators say:
“We can't pass the EFCA we all co-sponsored, how about a compromise that makes big business happy?”
“We can't give you the public plan we promised, how about useless co-ops instead?”
“We can't provide full federal benefits to same sex couples, how about help covering your partner's moving expenses?”
“We don't feel like dealing with Don't Ask Don't Tell right now, how about maybe in five years?”
The biggest difference between our current political reality and the classic fairly tale is that there is no magical out. The party leadership can't just say “Rumpelstiltskin” and have all debts canceled. The progressive grassroots expected to claim their prize, and party leadership has decided not to pay. In real life, debts unpaid are rarely forgotten or forgiven.