by McQ | January 15, 2010 8:08 pm
There is a lot of analysis going on about Obama’s first year and why, it seems, his job approval numbers are so dismal. And why, given the promise he brought to the White House, at least according to the PR faithfully pushed by his campaign, are Democrats looking at the possibility of large net losses in both houses of Congress?
The first hints of the dissatisfaction of the electorate came in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races where Republicans won — in VA handily. The Democrats claimed their candidate there ran a lack luster campaign and it wasn’t at all a referendum on the Obama administration and the Democratic agenda. But now, the very same thing is happening in Massachusetts with an unknown GOP state legislator giving the Democratic candidate for the “Ted Kennedy” seat, a run for her money (and, in the latest poll, up by 4 points over the Democrat).
Is this too the result of just a lackluster campaign and a poor candidate? Certainly a case can be made for that — except in this case, it is reliably and overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts. It doesn’t work quite as well there as it might in VA. It is beginning to sound like a bit of whistling past the graveyard.
In fact, as with VA, it is a reflection of some deep-seated dissatisfaction with Democrats in Congress and yes, with Obama as well. Charlie Cook nails the problem today in his analysis of why the Democrats are in such deep electoral trouble:
Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.
The latest unemployment and housing numbers underscore the folly of their decision to pay so much attention to health care and climate change instead of focusing on the economy “like a laser beam,” as President Clinton pledged to do during his 1992 campaign. Although no one can fairly accuse Obama and his party’s leaders of ignoring the economy, they certainly haven’t focused on it like a laser beam.
Cook is actually minimizing the problem somewhat. In fact, Obama and his party leaders have given little but lip service to the economy, unemployment and job creation while they’ve spent enormous time on agenda items which mean very little to a country suffering the depth of joblessness and economic hardship now prevalent. Add to that their extremely obnoxious handling of what they have focused on, the blatant partisanship in which they’ve conducted their “business” and the total lack of transparency in that process and you have a pretty toxic picture painted of Democrats in general.
Why, then, did Obama’s promise fail to materialize in his administration — at least in the first year? Well there are many reasons. Among them is a rookie politician (Obama) who got rolled by an experienced Democratic leadership that saw a small and closing window of opportunity to pass huge social welfare agenda items that had repeatedly failed in the past and chose to tackle them while ignoring the obvious elephant in the room. My guess is they miscalculated in more than just the way Cook contends. With their majorities, I’m sure they thought they could quickly put these bills together and pass them, leaving plenty of time to work on the economy. But, of course, given the diversity of opinion and interests even among Democrats, that wasn’t the case. It has dragged into the new year while work on the economy has been essentially non-existent (they threw a $787 billion pork bill out there and called it “stimulus”, figuring their usual panacea — throwing money at a problem — would work. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t).
Voters are mad about that. Rightly or wrongly, they blame the government for what does or doesn’t happen on their watch economically. For the most part, government can best affect the economy by making it easier for markets to expand and create jobs — tax cuts, less regulation, etc. Spending rarely sets up the conditions to do that. But regardless, of what action the government takes, voters expect the economy to be the absolute focus of government in times of economic crisis.
That has not been the case at all with this administration or Congress. And, it appears, they’re going to pay a huge price for that in 2010 and possibly 2012. What was a bright Democratic future less than a year ago has now become a scouting trip for a good place in the “wilderness” for Dems. If, as many economists expect, unemployment remains at 9% through 2012, we may be reading the obligatory columns about the “Death of the Democratic Party”. And while Obama’s personal popularity may remain high (while his job approval numbers tank), that doesn’t mean such perceived economic negligence will be rewarded with a second term.
[Crossposted at QandO]
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