Thursday, September 09, 2010

Democratic forebodings for November (3)

Josh Marshall, posted this in a worldly-cynical tone last week (Overdetermined TPM 08/31/2010):

... you get past the simple fact that the terrible unemployment rate has a lot to do with the Dems' awful electoral prospects, it's very hard to make any definitive statements about why they're struggling. There are numerous theories, many of which are plausible, but very few of which have a really solid factual basis behind them. So everybody picks the theory that validates their assumptions.

Dems and Obama's poll numbers are so bad because ...

Republicans: Terrible policies and he's probably a Muslim.

Right Democrats: No CEOs in the administration. And why does he keep getting into the black thing?

Down-the-Line Obamaites: Economy's bad. Nothing he could do. Give it a rest.

Left Democrats: He wasn't liberal or tough enough and me and my eight friends are deeply disillusioned.

Politico: Chronic failure to win the morning.
He has an important point, which is that unemployment is a major, serious problem and it's probably going to cost the Democrats a lot of votes in November. Maybe even cost them control of the House.

But Josh's "this side says, the other side says" framing obscures something important.

For one thing, the Obama administration was advised by economists like Paul Krugman and his chief economic adviser Christina Romer that the stimulus he was proposing in early 2009 was too small to adequately address the magnitude of the economic crisis. But Obama was so focused on pursuing an ephemeral hope for bipartisanship that he proposed a far smaller one. Marcy Wheeler recalls that advice in Nothing To Be Done But Blame Republicans Emptywheel 08/31/2010.

If the administration had pushed through a larger stimulus, or had been consistently insisting on additional stimulus even if the Republicans and Blue Dogs succeeded in shooting it down, they would likely be in a much less daunting situation electorally for this November. There would be more hopeful economic news. And they could have used those fights to create a narrative for Democratic priorities in which the Democrats were fighting for jobs for ordinary people while the Republicans were opposing them at every turn. As it is, they have to settle for a half-baked version of the latter. And with large majorities in the House and Senate, for the Democrats to be saying, "We wanted to do more but the Republicans wouldn't let us" isn't very credible in any case.

Which brings us to the other very relevant argument: the Democrats' failure to create a competing meta-narrative, a larger story to frame their policies, to push back against the Republican narrative of deregulation, tax breaks for billionaires, and hostility to Big Gubment (except for the military!) Robert Reich addressed this problem in Forget policy details: Obama needs a good story Salon 08/27/2010:

Republicans lack specific policies but they have a story. Obama and the Democrats have lots of specific policies but don’t have a story. That spells even more trouble for Democrats.

The Commerce Department reported today (Friday) that the economy grew only 1.6 percent in the second quarter, which is a fancy way of saying what everyone on Main Street already knows. The economy has stalled. Unemployment is still in the stratosphere and shows no sign of improving. The housing market is worsening.

Why? What to do? The Republican story is simple. It’s the fault of government. They say Obama’s policies have bankrupted the nation and made businesses too uncertain to create jobs. The answer is less government. Cut taxes and spending, privatize, and deregulate.

It’s not a new story but it’s capturing the public’s mind because the Democrats offer no story to counter it with.
So, yeah, we can be cynical and say, well, everybody's got their own take on it, and one is just as good as another. Except that they aren't.

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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


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