February 18, 2010

2010 elections - the logical outcome of 2008

Democrats are undoubtedly still perplexed at the steadily eroding public support for President Obama. You can see it in their actions. Those who had rushed to support his agenda, from Nancy Pelosi to Blanche Lincoln have either clung desperately (the irony of using that phrase is sweet) to the agenda, tried to come up with their own path or else abandon it (falsely or genuinely) and him entirely. You can see it also in the chattering class - from Jon Stewart taking the occasional and previously unimaginable, shot at the President to those expressing utter dismay at his lack of results, to those clinging to his supposed brilliance by ferociously defending him with the same verve that they had while attacking President Bush.

But the predicament the President, and Democrats in general find themselves in is a, no the, logical outcome of the events of 2008. There was no other way that things could turn out. And there is very little leeway now for Democrats to impact the outcome of the 2010 elections. At this point, it's a little bit like a convicted felon awaiting either a death sentence or life without parole. You know one of the two is going to happen and you make your pitch for the latter but clemency or a pardon is just not coming.

Even Republicans, having been chastised by the public in 2006 and again 2008 were disoriented by the Obama momentum. John McCain wasn't running against Obama - he was running against his pre-ordained myth. After the election for a time Republicans just shut up. Or tried to play along for fear of losing even more in 2010.

A while ago I mentioned detecting a small shift in the public mood and that as a conservative I was suddenly a bit worried about 2010. That feeling of a shift has thankfully passed. But despite the fact that I believe the Democrats are in big trouble there is still the possibility that Republicans can blow it. So the worry is still there. Worry is better than complacency and ironically complacency is one of my biggest worries. But, as is often the case, I digress.

Most would be shocked by where things stand today. Obama's job approval ratings are at or near the underwater mark, depending on the poll. But there are those of us, plenty actually who knew this day would come - that people would wake up to the reality of an Obama Presidency.

The President campaigned in 2008 based on saying a lot of things that would be difficult or impossible to fulfill. He also positioned himself in a way that put him in opposition to himself. Basically, he tried to portray himself as a centrist and as a far left progressive at the same time, depending on what suited the moment or the audience.

Now the public, individually expected him to govern one way or the other, depending on their own personal transference upon him. If they were moderates they believed what they heard when he said he was post-partisan. They believed his words about middle class taxes not going up. They believed he would clean up and change Washington and that he would put Congressional back room dealing out in the open on CSPAN. Some of them heard Afghanistan is the war of necessity.

The far left wing of the party on the other hand, heard "out of Iraq", Cap and Trade, and single payer universal health care. They heard close Guantanamo or they heard student loan forgiveness.

And when candidate Obama talked to Joe the Plumber about spreading the wealth, conservatives felt they had their smoking gun of socialism. Surely the center would abandon him. But they didn't - it was too late. He had become larger than life by campaigning in a way that allowed everyone, including conservatives even, to project upon him their own image of him and his agenda.

Simon and Garfunkel in the song The Boxer (not Barbara by the way) put it best:
"a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest".
No man can possibly deliver on divergent promises. And his promises ARE divergent. As a result it was only natural the Obama's support would erode. It had to - no other outcome was ever possible.

[Note - the remainder of this article is new, replacing what Google / Blogger deleted on me in my original attempt to post on this topic.  This content differs from what was previously written, as that content was lost entirely.  For the record, Google sucks].

So what happens in 2010 because of that?  Look at it from the perspective of Democratic candidates.  Since I wrote this last time (and Blogger swallowed two-thirds of my post into a black hole, stupid Google), Democratic Senator Evan Bayh has become a sterling example of the possibilities.  He has announced he will retire and not seek election.  Democrats have three choices at this point.  They can stick with Obama and the far left agenda (since he doesn't appear to be pulling a Bill Clinton and tacking back to the center).  They can quit.  Or, they can distance themselves from the left wing agenda and try to come off as more centrist in hopes of winning back lost independents.

None of those are a winning strategy in and of themselves. Retirement only works if you are already vilified (are you listening Harry Reid?).  The Evan Bayh retirement was a surprise.  While he was in some trouble, his seat was certainly still very winnable for him (ignore the Kos polling - his race was tight).  His retirement makes little sense.  Blanche Lincoln on the other hand has no chance of climbing back into her Senate race, yet she has decided to appear to tack back to the center on the national security and the KSM trial issues.  Again - it makes no sense.  She should retire and let the Democrats find someone less tied to the Democratic political establishment to try to take on the Republicans.  Then there are those who are the most like Marie Antoinette who are clinging to their Obama religion hoping it will save them from electoral defeat.  They are blinded to the reality of the current electorate and because they are still blinded by the euphoric liberal enthusiasm of last year, enabled by the mainstream media which has the same problem by and large, they can't see the world as it currently is.  They are driving the nation, looking in the rear view mirror instead of looking at the road ahead.  At every turn Democrats seem to be doing the wrong thing.  They have been caught unaware and seem to be (under the surface of course) in full-on panic mode.

The decline of Democrats in 2010 is inevitable, regardless of the fact that they are seemingly REALLY contributing to their own demise.  Michael Barone has a piece today in the Washington Examiner talking about how the GOP has to react to take advantage of the Democrats current crisis. In the specifics, he is quite right;
The architects of Bush’s victory in 2004 and of Obama’s victory in 2008 dreamed of establishing permanent governing majorities for their parties. But as political scientist David Mayhew has argued, and as the events following those victories suggest, a permanent majority is a will o’ the wisp.

Better to put into place public policies that will be enduring as party majorities come and go. This is what the Republican Congress elected in 1946 did: It repealed wartime wage and price controls, it revised labor law to reduce unions’ powers and it provided bipartisan support for Harry Truman’s Cold War policies. Democrats won back congressional majorities in 1948, but Republicans’ policies stayed in place, shaping prosperous postwar America.

Americans have rejected the Europeanizing policies of the Obama Democrats. Republicans may get a chance to put us on a better American path. They need to be prepared to do so.
BINGO.  It's true that it's still a long way to November (8.5 months).  It's true that the GOP needs to be, and to be seen to be, proactive.  But not politically.  They need to focus on what they want to fix and how - what damage they can undo, like the deficit for example.  From a political strategy standpoint, they shouldn't focus too much on anything other than the basics - get candidates, get money to advertise, connect with voters and talk about your ideas.  Other than that, just stay out of the way of the Democrat free fall.

The Democrats who decide to cling to Obama have a potent weapon in his speaking ability.  He is not a superb orator, but he does have the ability to spike his own approval for a few days after a speech and could do so again for others, despite his lack of success in Massachusetts and New Jersey in particular.  But the spike as seen in the Rasmussen graphs are temporally very brief.  Obama is not as ubiquitous as he was last year. because the White House knows that he was getting over-exposed.  They are keeping his powder mostly dry for the 2010 election cycle.  That's a double edged sword for those Obama hangers-on.  They need him to come in and save the day.  But it has to be close to election day.  He cant be in 360 districts and make 360 speeches in one week.  You'd think the Democrats would have a better plan than that, wouldn't you?  If not, we had no business losing to them in the first place.  Ever.

Democrats who retire are a bit of a wild card - in some districts like Dodd's it helps the Democrat chances, in other's like Bayh's it hurts.  It's too early to gauge these individual races.  But for those who have abandon ship Obama, his message to the Democrats as reassurance had been "you've got me" in comparing 2010 to 1994.  for those distancing themselves - they don't want him.  He's like an albatross they can't shake, or a boat anchor tied to their neck.  Or cement shoes.  Pick your metaphor, it's fun.  The problem with this approach is that they have a record of having supported directly or through being bought off, the very items they are now wanting to step away from.  It's pretty transparent and therefore it's not going to help them much.  It might in a few races, but overall, the damage of 2009 has been done.

Emboldened with hubris as a result of the anti-Bush election of 2008, Democrats believed they had an agenda mandate that Americans didn't really give them.  Further, the American political system, by it's very nature of checks and balances, sets politicians up to under-deliver, especially those who over-promise, and boy did the Democrats and Obama ever do that.  Positioning yourself as The One to solve everything, combined with a rhetorical flair to make it seem believable and a broad unspecific platform beyond Hope and Change guarantees you will disappoint a lot of people.  It obviously can get you elected, but it also pretty much also guaranteed the fallout for this year.  Barring a miraculous 2010, and 2011 it has a lot to say for 2012 as well.

Whatever the Democrats and the GOP do now, they are playing at the edges.  The Democrats could lose anywhere from 5 to 10 seats in the Senate and 20-50 seats in Congress.  What both parties are trying to do is work within that range, but only strong economic change will bring about real tilts in those numbers.  Well, that and big blunders by the GOP, though I suspect they may at some point in the next few months shift into the Prevent Defense for the remainder of the cycle and work on consolidating their gains to date. That may or may not be the right strategy - that's worth a discussion of its own.

The course is fundamentally set now.  It was set back in 2008.  My own moment of panic aside, there's no reason not to enjoy the coming months.  That doesn't mean become complacent, it means be positive about the outcome of the November mid-terms, and work towards them in that frame of mind.  You'll enjoy it so much more.

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