Sunday, December 13, 2009

A murkey view of the coming 12 months in politics

When Obama was elected in November 2008 I was thinking that we had been saved from the Bush/Cheney administration. And we had. Just not as dramatically as I had hoped. But now Obama is facing the perennial political question "What have you done for me lately?" 2010 is not going to be a pretty year politically.

It's a year after the 2008 Presidential election. Even Al Franken has finally been sworn in as Senator. Yet we aren't out of Iraq and Afghanistan (unrealistic dream, but not close to being true yet.) Don't Ask Don't Tell is still law in the military. The military budget has gone up, not down. And health care reform which was promised to be on Obama's desk by August is still bouncing around through the Senate and being cut down to something only the conservatives can love.

Recently the London Review of Books published Obama's Delusion by David Bromwich in which David takes Obama to task for having misled the voters in order to get elected, but now has gone back on everything he promised in the campaign. For a number of critics on the left, Obama is already a failed President and those who defend him are as irrational as the defenders of George Bush as he pushed his incompetence onto the American people. Glenn Greenwald provides a somewhat nuanced description of how critics of Obama from the left should be basing their criticism on his failures to enact left wing policies, not on his defenders who simply assume that his personality is so outstanding that nothing he can do is going to be wrong. Glenn is right that the hard left Obama defenders are no better than the Republicans who attack everything Obama does simply because he isn't their man. But for all his nuance, Glenn does not get down to the core of what liberals and progressives need to do to prepare for the 2010 election.

Josh Marshall this morning addressed the threat that 2010 is going to be another 1994 in which the Republicans take back the House and begin another ascent back to power. It's a good article, well worth reading, but in essence it says that 1994 was a direct result of the slow loss of the Solid South to the Republicans beginning with Nixon's Southern Strategy, and delayed only because the incumbent Democrats in the South were able to play off the 12 years of Republican Presidency after 1980 to hold onto their offices, but with the accession of a Democratic President in 1992 they lost that lever. Mostly the incumbent Southern Democrats retired or were defeated in 1994, but the problem was a structural one. It was not a fact that somehow Clinton lost the House to the Republicans in 1994. Those structural weaknesses do not exist in 2010. But Josh does point out that if his theory is correct "2010 is fundamentally different. The key problem for Dems isn't unpopularity. It's a highly apathetic Democratic electorate facing an extremely energized Tea Party GOP" Also, he says "Two factors -- whether Health Care passes and whether there's significant improvement in the economy by next summer -- will decide things, not any amount of strategery and messaging."

I think that is the core of the problem presented by the 2010 election. The core problem that I see is the Democratic apathy. So Steve Benen, riffing off a discussion by Matt Yglesias of the problems of institutional responsibilities faced by Obama explains why the Democrats are currently so apathetic.
Post-election governing tends to feature a familiar pattern. Presidents take office with high hopes, governing proves difficult, the policymaking process gets bogged down, and supporters get discouraged and start to walk away. It can be pretty disheartening.

Invariably, the new president gets blamed for failing to deliver. Matt Yglesias offers a helpful reminder about the nature of institutional responsibilities.
Matt adds to that Democrats thought that when Bush was replaced by Obama, then the Democratic agenda would be pushed through Congress. But all that happened was that the previous roadblock to getting progressive election - the Bush veto - was removed. It was replaced by the new roadblocks of a unified 40 member Republican Party of the Senate able to use the veto to block legislation. This has made the new roadblocks Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman.
...need to correctly identify the obstacles to change. If members of Congress are replaced by less-liberal members in the midterms, then the prospects for changing the status quo will be diminished. By contrast, if members are replaced by more-liberal members (either via primaries or general elections) the prospects for changing the status will be improved. Back before the 2008 election, it would frequently happen that good bills passed Congress and got vetoed by the president. Since Obama got elected, that doesn't happen anymore. Now instead Obama proposes things that get watered down or killed in Congress. That means focus needs to shift.
It seems to me that the apathy that is currently afflicting the Democratic electorate will be somewhat alleviated by passing health care. Something will have to pass. The future of the Democratic Party rides on it, and the two real threats (Nelson and Lieberman) will not want to be blamed for the total failure of the bill. They cannot now escape blame if it fails. But they are both demanding a very high price for whatever they finally permit. I am concerned that the banker-oriented Obama Treasury Department will do too much to fight the deficit before the 2010 election, though, resulting in a second dip in the economy. The resulting job loss is the real electoral threat. If the administration can actually do something about jobs, that will remove that threat from the election. Naturally, that means that the Republicans will fight hard against every possible job bill.

In any case, though, I do not expect the Republicans to take back the House in 2010. This next 12 months will continue to be very politically interesting.

Addendum 7:55 pm
Well, well. Steve Benen Reports that this morning Larry Summers said that the White House is shifting its goals from deficit reduction to job creation and economic growth. No surprise, actually. They are bright people and see the same things I do. The difference is that they see more than I do and that they don't have to tell the media what they are planning. So the surprise that this morning's announcement contains is that they decided to let the media in on their planning.

No comments: