With government spending so far out of control that Congress refuses to pass a budget, the Deepwater Horizon well spewing oil for 3 months, states passing their own laws to try to control illegal immigration, and voters on the warpath about deficit spending, the signs and portents are not, shall we say, auspicious for Mr. Obama and his party in the fall. Pundits have even started whispering the dreaded prediction, “one-term president,” in the salons of the chattering class.
“Stimulus” spending of nearly a trillion dollars has not kept joblessness under 8%, despite Mr. Obama’s optimistic predictions of early 2009. Indeed, it has mainly fed cash-strapped state and local governments, producing booming public-sector employment, with salaries higher than in the private sector. In the private sector, five unemployed workers are lined up for each job-opening, according to Mr. Obama. But the true picture might be much bleaker. Mr. Obama's statistic would mean there are actually 2.5 million jobs waiting to be filled. But where are they? Unemployment stands near 10%. Miniscule downward movements in the rate over the past year have been caused mainly by withdrawal of many discouraged job-seekers from the job-market. Economists say companies are hoarding $2 trillion in cash, but are refusing to hire because of uncertainty over future tax increases that are certain to come in 2011.
Mr. Obama’s major legislative achievement in his 18 months in office has been health care reform. He believes it will be his lasting legacy, and he continues to preach its supposed advantages. Yet polls consistently show a majority of Americans opposed to it. Media-coverage has waned, but the voters have not forgotten how this was rammed down their throats with corrupt legislative deals. Two-thirds of voters are sullenly waiting for the “tax shoe” to drop – biding their time until they can boot out the Democrat “rascals” who have driven them and the country to the financial brink. Millions of fully aware citizens know the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the recommendations certain to emerge from Mr. Obama’s Debt Commission will drive up their taxes in the coming year to pay the bills The One has run up. The result could be another stock crash and a second-dip recession.
As reviewed in earlier articles in this space, the BP oil-spill crisis has reinforced a growing public perception that Mr. Obama has been incompetent, at best, and malicious, at worst, in his dealings with the oil industry and the people who work in it. Millions of citizens now realize that the task of sweeping up the spilled oil near to the well-site was seriously bungled by the Obama administration. Little by painful little, even the Mainstream Media are beginning to explore the sordid possibility that a large quantity of oil was deliberately allowed to reach shore – some 50 miles from the leaking well – to persuade the public that a moratorium on all offshore drilling was needed. Mr. Obama expected “the great unwashed” to be too stupid to see this gambit for the crass political act it was. But it was a little too obvious. With timely marshaling of resources, most of the oil could have been swept up long before it hit shore. The “greatest ecological disaster in American history” didn’t have to be anywhere near as bad as it became. As the picture has clarified, the administration’s foot-dragging looks more and more politically motivated.
The peripatetic President Obama is still stumping the country – here at an electric truck factory in Kansas City, there at a solar panel manufacturer in Fremont, CA – preaching the gospel of economic good news. His message: George Bush caused the whole mess; Republicans have no “ideas” on governance, except those that got us into the mess; and everything is now on the upswing. But voters know better. Most families have friends or relatives who have been out of work for weeks or months. Foreclosures are commonplace. Happy days are definitely not here again, across most of the country. Voters are prepared to deliver a dash of reality to Mr. Obama and his Congress on the “ground truth” out in “flyover country.”
With things looking so bleak for Democrats among the voting public, one might think Mr. Obama and other party leaders would move to the political center to pose as fiscally responsible “moderates” who just want to put the country’s financial house in order. But one would be wrong. Instead, Team Obama is pushing for a Cap and Trade bill that will send energy costs into the stratosphere by treating carbon dioxide as a “pollutant” that must be taxed via the selling of “carbon allowances.” The allowances will be tradable, like securities, thus adding a vast, costly layer of bureaucracy and brokerage onto the nation’s commerce. Political scuttlebutt says Democrats might ram the ruinous bill through a lame-duck Congress, should they lose their majorities in November. The merest hint of this happening should be enough to send normally indifferent voters to the polls in even greater numbers to throw the Democrats out.
To counterbalance all this bad economic and ecological bad news, Mr. Obama naturally wants to energize his far-left base to vote in the same numbers as in 2008. A demagogic leader always needs a Great Satan as a foil for his rhetorical thrusts. Usually this is a foreign power or leader, but Mr. Obama’s Satan is the Republican Party. Over and over he has ridiculed his political opponents for “causing” the Great Recession of 2008, even though his own party held both houses of Congress during 2007-’08. All of our problems stem from the evil Republicans. They must be defeated in the November elections so he can finish the “great work” he has so nobly started. He has repeated this refrain so often that voters are starting to hum, “Say, I think I’ve heard that song before…”
Unfortunately for the Democrats (and Mr. Obama), the “GOP = Great Satan” strategy does not seem to be working very well. This is because you usually can’t win elections by running against something. History teaches that elections are won with a strong, positive message – e.g., Hope and Change – even if it isn’t very well defined. In fact, less defined is often better, as it allows voters to fill in the blanks to suit their own preferences. This was the Obama strategy in 2008, when millions of voters flocked to the polls in response to Mr. Obama’s stirring promise to “fundamentally change the United States of America.”
No one quite knew what that change would look like – then – but a year and a half in, we have a lot better idea. Generally speaking, the verdict runs from indifferent to antagonistic. Liberals who really hoped for radical change might be OK with the Obama program so far, but the independents who helped elect Mr. Obama are definitely underwhelmed. Will they turn out for Democratic representatives and senators, just to keep the Obama train on the tracks? Very doubtful. Some polls even indicate ennui among liberals, who evidently expected Mr. Obama to end the wars, set all the Guantanamo prisoners free, normalize gay marriage, and redistribute wealth on a grand scale (excepting theirs).
Meanwhile, conservatives have been mobilizing for a great cleansing of the Augean Stables in November. Tea Party rallies are ubiquitous across the country. Since the fall of 2009, vocal Tea-partiers have upset the Democratic apple cart in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Democrats have tried mightily to brand Tea Party activists as ignorant racists, xenophobes and homophobes, but the tactic has not worked. TV-viewers know that all those grandmas and housewives can’t really be members of the Klan.
Adding fuel to the fire, a great scandal has now arisen over the dismissal of a clear case of racist poll intimidation against several members of the New Black Panthers, by Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice. A former DOJ lawyer has resigned in protest and has come forward with accusations of anti-white racism within the department. Attempts to sweep the affair under the rug have failed, further enraging both conservatives and independents, nationwide.
With all this doo-doo hitting the political fan, what will the Democratic strategy be for the 2010 and 2012 elections? What card can they pull out of their political sleeve? Some analysts say there is none. They believe Democrats have already given up on November. They know a political tsunami is coming, so they will try to salvage what they can and otherwise hunker down to ride out the storm.
It’s possible they are right, but I have my doubts. Why would a party that worked so hard to gain control of Congress and the White House just roll over? I don’t believe it’s in them to do that. Then what can be done to salvage the elections?
To answer this, it’s important to understand the kinds of events that can galvanize the country and pull people of all political persuasions together to support the leaders already in power. History shows that the most reliable tool for accomplishing these ends is a war – particularly a sudden, deliberate attack like Pearl Harbor or the 9-11 attacks in 2001. Absent such a dramatic event, a great looming crisis like World War I in 1916, or World War II in 1940, can mobilize people behind their political leadership – either with the promise to keep us out of the war or with a desire not to change horses in mid-stream.
Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 on having kept us out of the disastrous European war. A month after his second inauguration, we were in it anyway. In 1940, FDR made dramatic declarations of how much he hated war, but it didn’t take a political genius to see that the storm was heading our way. Although the country was mired in 17% and 18% unemployment through the 1930s, and the GOP had made dramatic political gains in the 1938 elections, voters seemed disinclined to switch to a new president. FDR was elected to a historic third term. Four years later, in the thick of our involvement in World War II, voters gave clearly dead-man-walking FDR a fourth term. Republicans didn’t mount a serious campaign against him. Within a month he was dead.
Even President Lyndon Johnson – obviously cruising to an easy victory over Barry Goldwater – thought it important to play the War Card for “insurance.” Just days before the 1964 election, the controversial Bay of Tonkin incident produced a decisive response from LBJ, giving him commander-in-chief bona fides just in time for the voters to look at him with new respect. Whether this really made a difference in the election isn’t clear. Probably not, but the point is that LBJ and his advisors thought the War Card was important enough to play it. (Historians are still debating whether the North Vietnamese “attack” on one of our warships in the Gulf of Tonkin actually happened – or whether it was just a contrived story.)
I doubt if any variant of the War Card can be played in the four months preceding this year’s elections. It would have to be something very dramatic in order to be effective, so it’s unlikely Mr. Obama would risk playing it just to save the jobs of Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi – i.e., to salvage Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives or the Senate.
The 2012 election will be a different matter, however. Mr. Obama’s job will be on the line then. That will mean no limits on what the Obama Gang will do to ensure his re-election. In the language of my old neighborhood, they will throw in the kitchen sink to make sure he gets that second term. With apologies for the change in metaphor – the card at the bottom of the deck, waiting to be dealt by a desperate President Obama, will be the War Card.
On the other hand, maybe this won’t happen. Maybe Mr. Obama will have turned the country around, put people back to work, and demonstrated that Obamacare is the greatest thing since the cell phone. Perhaps new paeans of praise will loft him to a new term without resorting to war or other extreme measures. But don’t count on it. These guys play dirty. I doubt if anything is beyond them.