Against Conventional Political Wisdom: Ruminations
- Conventional Wisdom (CW): The Republican victories in the governor’s races in NJ and VA prove that Democrats are in real trouble in next year’s mid-term elections and will probably lose over 20 House seats and lose the Senate altogether. Umm, sorry, but no, it doesn’t. VA: Almost all the issues were local and VA just followed it’s historic pattern of electing governor’s from the party NOT in the White House–a tradition dating over 4 decades, now. I think Creigh Deeds (D) could have bucked that trend, but, for reasons I can’t fathom, he ran a terrible general election campaign after running a fantastic grassroots, come from behind, primary against the better-monied, better-connected, Terry McCauliffe. NJ: Corzine was in trouble even before Obama was elected. The only thing which made this a real race was the ethics problems (possible illegalities) of now gov-elect Christie. NJ voters picked the guy they hated least. Now, that doesn’t mean that Democrats won’t face some serious challenges in ’10, especially if the economy is still sluggish. The president’s party traditionally loses seats in the mid-term elections–only 3 times since the Civil War has that not been the case. But, if the Dems can show the American people that they are fighting hard for them and doing their best to lower unemployment, then the losses need not be high–and the GOP problems recruiting will help. I see no way for the Republicans, even if ’10 is a good year for them, to net the 11 seats it would take to reclaim the Senate Majority, but it will be hard for Dems to keep the supermajority of 60.
- CW: Obama’s in real trouble since his polling numbers have now dropped below 50% approval rating. Since WWII, every president except Eisenhower fell below 50% at some point in his first year in office. Ronald Reagan, who was reelected in the largest landslide ever in ’84 (I hate writing that, but, unlike the rightwing, I live in REALITY), tied Obama in waiting until month 10 before falling below 50%. George W. Bush fell below 50% approval in 4 months, until 9/11 artificially sent his approval ratings to c. 90% for months. Bush was below 50% in January of ’04 and became the first incumbent pres. since the Civil War to win reelection when starting their reelection year below 50%. So, Obama’s current dip does NOT mean that he’ll lose in ’12. It does make it harder for him to advance his agenda through Congress, but if gets meaningful healthcare reform signed before Christmas, his approval rating (and that of the Dems in Congress) will rise again. If he passes healthcare reform, some other key legislation, and doesn’t escalate Afghanistan, signs a nuke-cutting treaty with Russia, and makes progress on climate change at Copenhagen, then I will be very surprised if he doesn’t start the New Year with about 55% approval. If he and Congress can pivot to work hard on jobs, jobs, jobs, early in ’10, then expect his political capital to grow again. And the same polls showing the pres. below 50% approval rating still show him doing better than all 4 of his most likely GOP opponents, so it’s WAY too early for GOPers to celebrate.
- CW: If the President begins to drawdown troops in Afghanistan, he will commit political suicide. Really? LBJ found just the opposite: escalating an unwinnable and increasingly unpopular war is the path to political suicide. The American people are war weary. If Obama leads to a way out of Afghanistan that shows he remains serious about terrorist threats, but realizes that there is no military solution to Afghanistan, he will reinspire the young–key to his reelection and to his party’s continued success. In this case, the right thing is also the politically smart thing.
- CW: Sarah Palin has alienated enough of the Republican establishment to make sure that she is never nominated by that party for president. Don’t be so sure. She is the most charismatic figure of the GOP’s (shrinking) increasingly far-right base. Primaries are dominated by the true believers of each party. When I think of her likely competition: Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Charlie Crist, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee, I think Palin’s has a better than even chance of being the next GOP presidential nominee. That said, I think her chances of winning the White House are very slim. She alienates independents and you can’t win the White House without them.
- CW: The economy will ruin Democrats’ chances in 2010. It certainly could. The CW is not completely off-base here. People vote their pocketbooks and high unemployment is the biggest obstacle Democrats have next year. BUT: The GOP losses in ’06 and ’08 were so large, and their current divisions so wide, that they do not seem poised to capitalize on this. And, if the Democrats are shown to be working hard on the unemployment problem, even if the results are slow or modest at first, then they can climb the steep hill in ’10. The real challenge will be one of perception: For good reasons, many who voted Democratic in ’08, now believe the Democrats have worked harder to save Wall Street and big corporations than they have to help the poor and working classes. Obama and the Congressional Dems made a huge mistake early this Spring in trying to calm anger at the bankers and investors, instead of channeling that anger constructively. So, many turned the anger away from the bankers to the government–and this is politically dangerous to the majority party. From now to next November, the people need to see the president and Congressional Dems as ON THEIR SIDE and FIGHTING for them. Economic populism is strong again and it will either work for the Dems or burn down their house–no in-betweens. If they can win the perception battle and frame the issues their way, coupled with the weakened state of the GOP, then they could defy the odds in ’10 as they did in ’98 when CW predicted a GOP landslide, but the Dems made gains in the House and actually won a slim majority in the Senate. Then, if, as I believe the economy recovers for most people by 2011, expect 2012 to be a good year for Obama and the Democrats–and that could be true even if ’10 proves a good year for the GOP. (We saw that during the last recession of any depth, ’79-82. Reagan lost badly in the ’82 mid-terms, but by ’83 the economy was improving nicely and so in ’84, he was able to pronounce it “Morning in America,” and ask “Are you better off than four years ago?” and win the largest landslide victory in U.S. political history.) The 2 issues that could save the Democrats in ’10 are JOBS, and immigration reform. EVERYONE favors job creation. And Republican opposition to immigrants, especially Latinos (fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S.), is killing them.
- CW: Republican presidential hopes will be better in ’16 than ’12. True. Since the end of WWII, the U.S. has seldom allowed one party the White House for more than 8 years. And never more than ’12. So, if Obama’s popularity is high in ’16 and the Dems have a good candidate, they could hold on to win a 3rd term–but that person is very unlikely to be a two termer. But there are too many unknowns between now and ’12, never mind now and ’16 or ’20.
- CW: The violent rhetoric and actual political violence in America is unprecedented. No. Actually, eras of rapid social change have USUALLY been accompanied by hatred, fear, and violence on the part of sizeable minorities. I’m old enough to remember the Civil Rights era (though too young to have participated) and the amazing victories were accompanied by bombings of churches, assassinations, riots, and some of the worst public hate speech ever. This doesn’t mean I don’t worry. I do. I worry about assassination attempts on Pres. Obama and others. I worry about domestic terrorism–connected to MANY religions, including the right wing of Christianity, or to secular ideologies–not just to fanatic versions of Islam. We need to work against this–but I think we’ll survive it as we make social progress.
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