Daily Archives: September 5, 2009
Charlie Cook, one of the more respected political analysts, has a piece in the National Journal that patiently explains what the left and Democrats still don’t seem to understand – they won, but they didn’t win what they think they won.
In fact, they won much less than that. “Change”, as defined by many independents who put Barack Obama and the Democrats in office, had little to do with expanding government. And within a span of a few months, the entire political dynamic changed, but apparently the left missed it:
Independent voters — fired up by the war in Iraq and Republican scandals — gave Democrats control of both chambers of Congress in 2006. Two years later, independents upset with President Bush and eager to give his party another kick expanded the Democratic majorities on the Hill. Late in the campaign, the economic downturn, together with an influx of young people and minorities enthusiastic about Obama, created a wave that left the GOP in ruins.
That was then; this is now. For the seven weeks from mid-April through the first week of June, Obama’s weekly Gallup Poll approval rating among independents ran in the 60-to-70 percent range. But in four of the past five weeks, it has been only in the mid-to-high 40s. Meanwhile, Democrats and liberals seem lethargic even though Republicans and conservatives are spitting nails and can’t wait to vote.
Why? Cook explains the basics of what has happened:
While political analysts were fixated on last fall’s campaign and on Obama’s victory, inauguration, and first 100 days in office, two other dynamics were developing. First, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression scared many voters, making them worry about their future and that of their children and grandchildren. And the federal government’s failure to prevent that calamity fundamentally undermined the public’s already low confidence in government’s ability to solve problems. Washington’s unprecedented levels of intervention — at the end of Bush’s presidency and the start of Obama’s — into the private sector further unnerved the skittish public. People didn’t mind that the head of General Motors got fired. What frightened folks was that it was the federal government doing the firing.
Many conservatives predictably fear — and some downright oppose — any expansion of government. But late last year many moderates and independents who were already frightened about the economy began to fret that Washington was taking irreversible actions that would drive mountainous deficits higher. They worried that government was taking on far more than it could competently handle and far more than the country could afford. Against this backdrop, Obama’s agenda fanned fears that government was expanding too far, too fast. Before long, his strategy of letting Congress take the lead in formulating legislative proposals and thus prodding lawmakers to take ownership in their outcome caused his poll numbers on “strength” and “leadership” to plummet.
These fears haven’t been allayed one bit. In fact, they’ve been ignored completely as Democrats continue their approach to the issue of health care. Americans are telling them, in every poll and every townhall meeting, to back off the direction they seem to be insisting on taking. One of the implications in Cook’s assessment of why Republicans were kicked out in 2006 and again in 2008 was a growing frustration with the deafness of the Repubicans. They weren’t listening. They moved ahead with their agenda and never seemed to consider what their constituents were saying.
The Democrats are in exactly the same sort of loop. They’ve finally got the power, they’ve either misinterpreted their mandate or are simply ignoring the people for the chance to pass what they’ve long wanted to pass and are very close to paying a huge political price for doing so. Cook addresses that point:
With 14 months to go before the 2010 midterm election, something could happen to improve the outlook for Democrats. However, wave elections, more often than not, start just like this: The president’s ratings plummet; his party loses its advantage on the generic congressional ballot test; the intensity of opposition-party voters skyrockets; his own party’s voters become complacent or even depressed; and independent voters move lopsidedly away. These were the early-warning signs of past wave elections. Seeing them now should terrify Democrats.
If you take an objective look at the situation under which the Republicans lost their power, Cook’s formula was precisely how it played out. If you take an equally objective look at how this situation is forming up, you can indeed see what Cook is talking about repeating itself for Democrats.
And that brings us to the Obama health care speech on Wednesday – many are calling it a “make or break” speech. I’m of the opinion that it is more likely to be too little too late. Popular support for any bill is trending down. Popular support for the Democrat’s version(s) has been trending down. Obama’s approval ratings concerning health care have been falling.
Unless Obama has some startling new ideas, never before discussed which will be introduced and promise to be pleasing to both sides, he’s stuck with attempting to repackage and spin the same old tired arguments which have, to this point, been pretty well rejected.
Wednesday’s speech could indeed still be a “make or break” speech, but not for health care. Instead it may make or break Democratic support (depending on the President’s stance on the public option) and sound the death knell for Democratic Congressional control and, possibly, the presidency. It is indeed an important speech – but not for the reasons Democrats think.