Monday, August 15, 2011

Scratching for signs for Democrats to have electoral hope in 2012

This report from Binyamin Appelbaum and Helen Cooper in the New York Times received understandable attention from the progressive blogosphere the last few days: White House Debates Fight on Economy 08/13/2011. The bottom line is that any serious stimulus or any real concern about jobs is not part of the Administration's perspective on what needs to be done over the next year.

Mark Thoma in White House Debates Giving Up on Helping the Economy Economist's View 08/14/2011 calls attention to this paragraph of the Times story ...

The issue is being framed by the 2012 election. Administration officials, frustrated by the intransigence of House Republicans, have increasingly concluded that the best thing Mr. Obama can do for the economy may be winning a second term, with a mandate to advance his ideas on deficit reduction, entitlement changes, housing policy and other issues.
... and asks:

The best thing the administration can do is abandon support for struggling households now so Obama can get reelected and reduce social insurance programs that help struggling households?
Because that seems to be the approach they are determined to follow.

Robert Kuttner, Looking for Some Good News Huffington Post 08/14/2011, describes the reasons for cautious optimism for the Democrats in 2012.

The Republicans have been captured by the far right. Ordinarily, that would be good news for Democrats. The Republicans may well nominate someone too crazy for most Americans to vote for. There is also the beginning of a serious backlash against the Tea Party among the general electorate (though not among the Republican base).

Through the smog of rhetoric and demagoguery, more and more Americans are coming to correctly blame Republicans for the obstructionism on the budget agreement that helped trigger panic in financial markets. With so many far-right Republicans having picked up House seats in the 2010 midterm, the election of 2012 could be a good year for a Democratic comeback.
But, we have a little problemita on the Democratic side:

The only problem is that we have our own albatross in the White House. Barack Obama is not likely to have coattails. And his own strategy for dealing with prolonged stagnation neither motivates voters nor fixes what ails the economy. Oh, and it divides his own party. ...

Obama may yet be saved by the sheer extremism of the likely Republican nominee. But we should not bet the farm on that either. I vividly remember being reassured that Ronald Reagan was too far-right, and George W. Bush too dumb, to be elected. So much for that theory. ...

I have to say Obama is doing just about everything he can to depress people who were so excited about him in 2008.
He emphasizes the importance of mounting progressive primary challenges in Democratic primaries. And I was particularly intrigued by this comment: "Talk to elected Democrats on the subject of Obama off the record, and you get unprintable rage."

But I don't see a lot of that spilling over into publicly articulated rage on the part of Democratic members of Congress. It makes perfect sense they would be upset by what Obama's anti-Social Security and anti-Medicare positions are doing to the Party. Right now it looks like a lemming strategy.

But that's probably unfair to lemmings. Because they don't occasionally run off cliffs because they make mass suicide pacts with each other. It's because in their migrations, when they come to an obstacle, they are determined to get past it. Even if the obstacle turns out to be an ocean.

Does that describe a Democratic Party that will express "unprintable rage" to a friendly partisan off the record but are reluctant to stand up unequivocally in defense of Social Security and Medicare benefits?

Kuttner points to this piece by Andrew Hacker, The Next Election: The Surprising Reality New York Review of Books 07/21/2011, that offers hope for Obama re-election, though not for Social Security and Medicare. Hacker digs into the weeds of turnout trends and points out that the 2012 electorate is likely to be much more favorable for Obama and the Democrats than in 2010, i.e., younger, less affluent, more urban. Or, as he puts it:

The 2012 electorate will differ from 2010's in a crucial respect: it will contain nearly 50 million additional voters. Some will be new, but most of them will be people who supported Obama in 2008. Compared with the 2010 House electorate, they will be younger, more ethnically diverse, with fewer identifying themselves as conservatives, and a higher proportion will be women. Most of them would not have voted for the Republicans who now make up John Boehner's House.
The problem for the Democrats is that Hacker's case for capitalizing on a more favorable electorate in 2012 turns on Obama drawing sharp lines between himself and the Republicans, particularly on the Ryan Plan's proposed abolition of Medicare. He suggests Harry Truman's "give 'em hell" campaign of 1948 as a model. (Truman himself said, I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.)

Which brings us back to the Democrat's problemita. As Hacker observes, "In the end, turning out voters in a presidential election rests far more on enthusiasm than money." And Kuttner reminds us that "the 18-year-olds who voted for Obama with such enthusiasm in 2008 will be 22-year-olds looking for jobs in 2012." And Obama's proposals for a Grand Bargain that basically really only means the beginning of phasing out Social Security and Medicare has already made it difficult for Obama to pose as the champion of those programs. "We won't cut Social Security and Medicare as much as the other guys" doesn't sound promising as a campaign slogan. Obama's calling Social Security cuts "modest adjustments," as he did today on his bus tour along with scolding Democrats for objecting to them.

Particularly when the Republican Party is already using talking points like this, "During The Debt Ceiling Negotiations, Obama Offered $650 Billion In Cuts To Entitlement Programs Like Medicare, Medicaid, And Social Security." (Reach Out And Touch Medicare 08/04/2011)

And when the Republicans will be running endless ads like this:

As Kuttner grimly observes, "There is a whole, depressing genre of commentary that goes, 'Here's what Obama needs to do.' Well, gentle reader, he isn't reading these columns and he isn't going to do it." Unless the Democratic base can bring enough pressure to, among other things, get those silently enraged elected Democrats to start standing up seriously for Social Security and Medicare.

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