How Obama Has Curbed Democrats' Enthusiasm
Tuesday Robert Reich, Clinton's former Labor Secretary-- a job both he and Obama reserved for the rare progressive in their center-right administrations-- tacked the origins of an enthusiasm gap likely to decimate the ranks of congressional Democrats in November. With shockingly clueless party leaders like Chris Van Hollen and Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the DCCC, Robert Menendez at the DSCC and Tim Kaine at the DNC all of a mind that elections can be won by begging cash from corrupting corporate interests and then spending it with fatalistic, money-grubbing Beltway consultants to take ineffectual TV spots, the Democrats have virtually no chance to make a 1934-like case that the country is not progressing fast enough because of partisan conservative opposition from the GOP. When Democrats and Roosevelt did that then, it was the GOP who were beaten to a bloody pulp by the voters. But Obama is no Roosevelt-- in fact, if anything, Obama's tepid approach is more like Herbert Hoover's-- and the Democrats... well today's lot are a sad shadow of a party once firmly and proudly committed to the interests of working families. Reich is surely pondering this sad-- and dangerous-- turn of events.
Whatever the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections, the activist phase of the Obama administration has likely come to a close. The President may have a fight on his hands even to hold on to what he’s already achieved because his legislative successes have been large enough to fuel strong opposition but not big enough to strengthen his support. The result could be disastrous for him and congressional Democrats.
Consider the stimulus package. Although it’s difficult to separate the consequences of fiscal and monetary policy, most knowledgeable observers conclude that the stimulus has had a positive effect.
Yet the official rate of unemployment remains above 9%, not including millions either too discouraged to look for work or working part-time when they’d rather have full-time jobs. Almost half of the jobless have been without work for more than six months, a level not seen since the Great Depression.
Take a look at this frighteningly compelling unfolding of a recession that shows the march of unemployment, geographically by county, starting in January of 2007-- when GOP economic policies really started to kick in-- and May of this year. As Reich points out, Obama's "original sin was not spending enough and focusing the stimulus more directly on job creation" to overcome the toxic effects of devastating Republican policies that hollowed out the entire economy.
A stimulus too small to significantly reduce unemployment, a TARP that didn’t trickle down to Main Street, financial reform that doesn’t fundamentally restructure Wall Street, and health-care reforms that don’t promise to bring down health-care costs have all created an enthusiasm gap. [And let's not forget the Administration's failed "centrist" approach to stopping the foreclosure crisis.] They’ve fired up the right, demoralized the left, and generated unease among the general population.
This leaves the Democrats in a difficult position. They have to prove a negative proposition—that although these initiatives cost lots of money or require many new regulations, conditions would be or will be a lot worse without them.
The administration deserves tactical credit. It accomplished as much as it possibly could with a fragile 60 votes in the Senate, a skittish Democratic majority in the House, and a highly-disciplined Republican opposition in both chambers. Yet Bismarck’s dictum about politics as the art of the possible is not altogether correct.
The real choice is between achieving what’s possible within the limits of politics as given, or changing that politics to extend those limits and thereby more assuredly achieve intended goals. The latter course is riskier but its consequences can be more enduring and its mandate more powerful, as both Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan demonstrated.
So far, Barack Obama has chosen the former course. Despite the remarkable capacities he displayed during the 2008 campaign to inspire and rally Americans behind him, as president he has for the most part opted for an inside game.
Perhaps he didn’t want to risk what he could achieve through inside deals. Maybe by temperament or inclination he is more comfortable with compromise than conflict. It’s possible he implicitly traded a more ambitious domestic agenda for Republican support on foreign policy. Or perhaps he has sensed the increasing polarization of the electorate and didn’t want to further exacerbate it.
Any or all of these hypotheses may be true, but the undeniable consequence has been to erode the capacity of the president and his party to accomplish much more from here on. Still, it is far too early to write an epitaph for the Age of Obama. He may yet surprise. He is, as he reminds us, a most improbable president.
He may be improbable and he may manage to win an unlikely second term in 2012 but the enthusiasm gap was strong Tuesday night in the primaries. In all three statewide races, GOP voters flocked to the polls. Democrats didn't. Kansas has a rare open Senate seat. Around 320,000 Republicans voted. 80,000 Democrats went through the motions. In the Democratic-held 3rd CD, from which Blue Dog Dennis Moore is retiring, his wife Stephene, won the Democratic nomination with 16,539 and her one opponent, Thomas Scherer took 4,661 votes-- just over 21,000 between them. The Republican runner-up, Patricia Lightner, wound up with over 26,000 votes and, in all, the Republicans running for the nomination to turn the seat red generated around 70,000 votes.
In Missouri Robin Carnahan won the Democratic Senate primary with 83.8% of the votes cast (264,742). Hopelessly corrupt political insider Roy Blunt-- a shameful figure who helped push through Bush's no-strings-attached Wall Street bailout (TARP)-- only took 70.9% in the GOP primary-- but that amounted to 409,806 votes! And look at the results in Missouri's 4th congressional district where Republicans are hopeful they can oust conservative Democrat Ike Skelton, first elected in 1975.
On top of that, Missouri's anti-healthcare ballot measure passed Tuesday with just over 70% of the vote, a reflection of worked up Limbaugh and Beck fans showing up to vote and Democrats sitting home, angry at what a crappy president Obama has turned out to be and how pathetically ineffective Democrats have been in Congress.
It was a similarly dismal story in Michigan where about 527,000 Democrats voted in the gubernatorial primary-- a primary that drew over 1,100,000 Republicans! Maybe it will change in November... although I don't see any reason it should. The Democrats are counting on the Republicans and teabaggers to self-destruct, and although that may happen with a few of the most extreme and bizarre ones-- your Sharron Angles, Paul LePages, Rand Pauls and Pat Toomeys-- Democrats, aside from forgetting how to appeal to their own base as legislators, have forgotten how to run grassroots campaigns. Right now they're all scurrying around trying to raise corporate PAC money as though that's going to save them from anger on the right and ennui on the left.
Meanwhile, the jobs report that came out today was bad enough-- but looks even worse than it was!
UPDATE: Is This Enough? Obama Needs More Alan Grayson And Less Rahm Emanuel