Democrats: Which Way From Here?

Member Group : Salena Zito

WASHINGTON – If you are a member of the Obama administration, a congressional staffer or another elected Democrat working here, the outlook for the 2010 midterm elections appeared grand in the days following the health-care vote.

Watching President Obama stroll confidently into the Cannon House Office Building two weeks ago to give an impassioned speech as to why the House vote was not important for him or Democrats but for Americans, reporters, staffers and House members swayed with the knowledge they were about to participate in or observe history.

Too bad they forgot that not all historical moments have a happy ending.

This White House kicked-off 2009 truly believing it was transformational, that it didn’t need to work in a bipartisan manner and could play both sides against the middle by taking the "higher ground."

Problem is, it failed to lead and made quite a few tactical errors along the way.

This has put the White House in a serious hole heading into 2010 elections. Instead of using 2009 to shore up its base, it antagonized civil libertarians, the gay/lesbian community, anti-war Dems and "new voters" (young people and blacks) by doing everything wrong and standing for nothing, in their eyes.

Now it is falling back on what would have been a smart strategy, playing in the middle, but the left is suspicious of the White House’s motives and the "new voters" of 2008 have started to realize that Obama is just another politician.

"I think it will be tough for Democrats to run this year no matter what they do," says Michael Whitney of the progressive political blog, Firedoglake.

Whitney thinks it is too early to know the impact of the health-care bill on the midterms. "My opinion has been that the bill is a corporate-designed bailout for the insurance industry that, without a public option, forces you to pay as much in health insurance costs to private companies as you already do in federal taxes to the IRS."

Democratic candidates have two roads to travel this year, says Isaac Wood, a political analyst at the University of Virginia: "One leads to Obama and the other leads as far away as you can get. If you choose the latter, the directions are simple – turn right and keep going."

Wood believes that, to win, Democrats must adopt a nuanced message explaining why they supported what they supported in the past 18 months – perhaps touting that they passed a bill to eliminate pre-existing conditions as a basis to deny insurance coverage, glossing over its tax increases and mandates, and pointing only to the reform aspects that are popular.

Yet the missing low-hanging fruit for Democrats is jobs: The economy has been largely ignored despite many proclamations that the president was/is/will be pivoting to jobs.

Late last week a USA Today/Gallup poll showed registered voters now preferring the Republican candidate over the Democratic candidate in their districts by 47% to 44% in the midterm congressional elections.

The poll also shows overall disaffection with all things political and puts the blame and responsibility for the nation’s problems on Obama.

Reporters and insiders profess shock – shock! – that Americans feel this way. If they spent any time outside their little cliques and in the real world, they would have known that such feelings began last March.

Democrats were given a gift in the elections of 2009, says Jon Keeling of the Ohio-centric conservative blog Third Base Politics. "With Republican wins in solid-blue New Jersey and Massachusetts, along with an overwhelming victory in Virginia, the left was given the warning shot Democrats never had in 1994; the question now is whether they heed the lesson learned."

The only chance Democrats have to limit their expected losses is to abandon any semblance of a substantive liberal summertime political agenda and to focus superficially on what concerns the majority of Americans – the economy.

Unless Obama gets serious about investing in jobs, 2010 will be a disaster. Right now, all voters see is the same thing they saw when Obama was elected: high unemployment, rich CEOs living off the public dime, no one held accountable for a global financial meltdown.

All the while, workers continue losing their jobs or, as in the case of 1,100 Whirlpool workers in Indiana, seeing those jobs shipped off to Mexico.