Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wrong and Unfair

I usually really like Steve M's work, but I have to disagree with him pretty strongly in his analysis of Democrats and the economy.

Nine years ago, 47% of Americans thought Democrats were on the side of average Americans and 29% thought they favored big corporations -- an 18-point advantage for "average Americans."

Now it's an 18-point advantage for fat cats. However inaccurate the old perception may have been, the Democrats needed it, and they've lost it. I don't know if they even want to get it back, but they're risking long-term minority status, starting in the next couple of election cycles, if they don't get it back.

Look, you can give the vast majority of the goodies to the fat cats and a lot less to ordinary people when ordinary people don't need that much. But when people are hurting, the reality needs to match the FDR-like rhetoric. You have to deliver for ordinary Joes. And the current crop of Democrats didn't. That failure is the Democrats' Katrina.


Democrats have had a year and a few months to blunt the appeal of GOP talking points on these issues (and yes, I know that the president's approach on deficits and drilling has been GOP Lite). Instead, they pissed away the better part of a year on a health-care bill that's helped virtually no one so far and that most Americans think is awful, even if they don't know why. This could turn out to be a GOP decade, and it's because there are people on rooftops all over America, and Democrats haven't rescued them.

I think this is a severe overreaction and is unfair to the Democrats. First, I absolutely reject the idea that Democrats will become a long-term minority because people believe they support Wall Street fat cats. This is strictly a response to the economy and to effective right-wing rhetoric painting the Democrats as out of touch with common people. When the economy gets better, as it is already doing, Democratic numbers will improve. We can already see this begin to happen in a lot of polling data.

And wasn't it just 2 years ago that we were talking about Republicans becoming a long-term minority? And wasn't it just 6 years ago that Karl Rove was talking about a permanent Republican majority?

It's just not useful thinking in these ways. Things change, often fairly rapidly. This is especially true of the economy.

This argument is also unfair on the merits. There was a knee-jerk reaction among a lot of Progressives against TARP and the bank bailouts. I didn't exactly share this--because I frankly don't know what's best for the economy. That is such a complicated issue that I really don't know what had to happen. But I do know that banks could not continue to fail. Something had to be done to stablize the system. I've read in several places suggesting that TARP and the stimulus package prevented the nation from seeing 12, 13, even 15% unemployment. Those become pretty good bills with that in mind.

Moreover, I don't know that we can rightfully say Obama "pissed away" a year on health care reform. That was a hugely important bill. From an immediate political perspective, maybe health care reform as Obama conceived it didn't build a lot of political capital. And there's no question that Obama did a very poor job of using executive power to make immediate changes in Americans' lives. (This gets to another issue--if Obama holds an expansive view of executive power, as have most recent presidents, why does it only seem to apply to military and foreign policy issues and not domestic policy making? But that's for another post.) But the health care bill is a massively important piece of legislation. In one year, Obama left a greater positive impact on this nation than the majority of American presidents. It's more than either Bush or Bill Clinton accomplished.

The bill may be flawed and Obama's way of shepherding the bill might leave much to be desired, but let's not minimize the significance of health care reform just because Democrats are currently unpopular.