Friday, February 19, 2010

Obama's political support

This interview with Charlie Cook is notable for a rather obnoxious comparison of Obama's fiscal policy with Bush's Iraq fiasco, in a way that almost seems a deliberate attempt to make him seem like a creep. But it's worth reading as a primer on the conventional wisdom regarding Obama and the Democrats right now. He even resuscitates the wine track, beer track idiocy that the media obsessed over during the primaries.

What should be noted is that what is happening with Barack Obama's popularity is not unprecedented. It's almost exactly what happened with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. Both took office thanks to a recession that occurred on their predecessors' watch, and when they couldn't immediately fix the economy, their popularity dropped quickly. It restored itself when the economy began to perform better. Reagan's party, of course, suffered big losses in 1982 but that didn't matter with respect to the outcome in 1984.

It's true that the Republicans are poised to make some nontrivial gains this year. Probably more than the seven I predicted some months back. But the question is what they actually plan to do with this power. I suspect both parties have come to believe their own spin on the nature of power in Washington. Democrats spent most of 2009 talking about having a mandate, which was fair enough, but there was also a sense among some liberals that the Republicans were just done after the Bush years. That nobody would vote for them, that this was a transitional moment, that they had bought the loyalty of the electorate. This was not at all correct. What the Democrats got in 2008 was a chance to govern. Republican failure convinced the public to give the Democrats a shot. Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that the Republicans have gotten more popular over the past year--the public still doesn't care for them. But the Democrats have lost some ground because they haven't done much to earn support or loyalty just yet. The Republicans have no loyalty left, as even the teabaggers claim not to have much use for them, and they are relying solely on free-floating anger to carry them through. But like the Joker's metaphor of a dog chasing cars, I strongly suspect that Republican congressional leaders don't really know what they'd do with power, and if they actually won a chamber of congress and forced spending cuts through the system, it would damage the economy and leave the Democrats with a simple narrative against them in 2012. (More likely the GOP would not try this, and just blame Democrats for not being bipartisan enough on cutting spending. Their followers generally aren't fazed by failure, it seems.)

And this is what I'm getting at. If the Democrats take action on health care, climate change, and immigration while the economy mends, they will gain more loyalty. But the Republicans don't really seem to understand how to build sustainable support. They rail against spending opportunistically while not supporting Paul Ryan's (admittedly very unpopular) plan that would do just that. They seem to think that the public will vote for them because they are not Democrats, and they might...once. But what modern history tells us is that while the public will often give the other party a chance if the ruling party fails, defining yourself as not them reaps only short-term benefits. Reagan built a large coalition by dealing with communism, taxes, and crime to the public's satisfaction. FDR built a bigger one by taking direct action to rebuild the economy and ending fascism. The Republicans now have no solutions to any problem America faces, and it seems that they've forgotten how quickly the tides of populist anger turned from George W. Bush to Obama and the Democrats (albeit to a lesser extent so far, as Obama's numbers are much stronger than Bush's during his second term). This should be interesting.

See also: Jon Chait

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.