When Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown came from nowhere to win the state’s special U.S. Senate election, pundits pronounced health care dead. That’s worth keeping in mind when you read the dire pronouncements and predictions by pundits and political analysts alike about the prospects for the Democratic Party come November.
Yes, political polls today show a furious public, eroding support for the president and the promise of a serious “throw the bums out” vote in the midterm elections. All bode badly for Democrats. Add to that a still sputtering economy, unemployment stuck in the mud above 9 percent, state and local governments continuing to cut budgets (and jobs), foreclosures continuing to rise and no clear path out of this mess, and the picture starts to look even more ominous.
1. The Republican Party has yet to offer any cogent alternatives to a mess that — keep in mind — it got us into. No, Barack Obama can no longer blame George W. Bush or the Republicans for this administration’s lack of traction in turning around the country. But he can occasionally remind us who got us stuck neck deep in the mud. Even Americans don’t forget everything that quickly.
2. Ever since Scott Brown’s election, Barack Obama has emerged as a more forceful and confident president. As Republicans begin to buckle in opposing financial regulation, it’s clear that Obama — not Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele or Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — is in the driver’s seat. He and the Democratic leadership are showing a new found willingness to challenge Republicans rather than plead for their nonexistent bipartisanship. That toughness may bolster Democrats in the battle over a new Supreme Court nominee and future legislation. As Obama defines himself as a president of action, the Republicans’ party of “no” will look that much more like the emperor pronouncing a need for new fashions in government even as it parades around with no clothes on.
3. The Tea Party movement is pushing the Republican Party further and further to the right and may, in some places, fracture it. For John McCain to announce, “I never considered myself a maverick,” is so preposterous, it deserve more a snort than a chuckle. Florida’s centrist and popular governor, Charlie Christ, is being forced from his party even as some polls show him to be the leading candidate in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate. He may well end up running as an independent. And people like Tea Party Express Chairman Mark Williams regularly undercut that movement’s claim to be merely anti-tax and pro-smaller government by vilifying the president as an anti-American muslim or worse (who, by the way, they disagree with on policy only, not because he’s black).
Notes The Boston Globe of Williams, “his incendiary remarks, which include long-discredited assertions, have alienated some Republicans and Tea Party members, and raised fears that such extreme rhetoric will marginalize the movement and undercut its momentum.” (On his blog, The Globe reports, Williams has called the president “an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug.” That, it strikes me, is just one small reason, along with the litany of “Barack HUSSEIN Obama’s” from the podium and racist taunts against Congressmen during the health care vote, why all those signs proclaiming “I am not a racist” at the recent Boston Tea Party rally rang rather hollow.)
4. In the end, the Obama administration may turn out to have played the expectations game deftly when it warned recently that unemployment actually might creep upward as more people come back into the workforce. In Massachusetts last month, it ticked downward .2 percent from 9.5 to 9.3. And the International Monetary Fund reported this week that the international economy is recovering at a faster rate than expected, though it warned that mounting debt could hinder advanced economies.
Come November, James Carville’s dictum in the 1992 presidential campaign likely will still hold true: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Still, my personal guess is that if the administration can coax unemployment below 8 percent by election day, it will be able to mount a credible case that the country is headed in the right direction.
Admittedly that remains a big “if.” And even then, barring a remarkable and unforseen economic turnaround, Democrats will lose seats in the House and Senate come November as is typical of the party of the president in midterm elections. But I’ll lay odds those losses will be something considerably less than the Armageddon Republicans are dreaming about.
Republicans may well succeed in ousting Harry Reid in Nevada and four or five other senators. They may take over a couple of dozen House seats. But I don’t believe they’ll succeed in intimidating the president, or taking control of either house of Congress. And unless Republicans as a party start offering up something other than hate and opposition, their support will erode even faster with a frustrated and angry citizenry than it’s managed to rebound since the 2008 election.