Thursday :: May 13, 2010

The Trojan Horse


by Deacon Blues

It’s been said before around these parts that the Obama administration made some fundamental missteps in its agenda and priorities that will come back to harm Democratic incumbents in the 2010 midterms. Sure, the party in the White House traditionally loses seats in the first midterm after a presidential election, unless you gin up a war like Rove did in 2002. But you can minimize those losses and even fight them to a draw if the administration is smart in the issues it tackles during its first year and smart in keeping its base motivated.

The Obama White House is 0-2 on that.

There’s been some chatter in the media over the last 12 hours about the newly-released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll over the top line findings that the GOP has regained its motivated base and stands in a statistical tie with Democrats on the generic congressional preference question for 2010. Before getting into what the poll actually shows that the mainstream media overlooks, it needs to be said that Gallup saw something contrary about the GOP base’s motivation just last week: it’s actually declining. It also needs to be said that when you look closely at these latest results on the NBC News/WSJ poll, the GOP has actually been in a statistical tie with the Democrats since last December, yet other polls have shown that when voters are asked if they plan to dump their incumbent representative, the answer is no. Until the polls show that voters will vote out their own representatives, aren’t these generic ballot polls meaningless?

But you can look at this poll and see how the Obama administration blew it, with their first-year focus on health care at the expense of financial reform and an effective stimulus effort. Why so?

Right Track/Wrong Track: At the time Obama came into office, there was a wave of optimism from the inauguration and his initial days in office, such that the spread between the “right track” number (41%) and wrong track number (44%) was only a -3%. As of this month, five months before the midterms, that number has swelled to -22%.

Government Priorities: Since June of last year, there’s been an 8-point drop in the number of respondents who feel that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are high priorities, and a 9-point drop in the same number for health care, while there have been increases in the number who feel that job creation and economic growth should be the top priority. Yet Obama spent his first year on health care and ramping up Afghanistan, while putting forward a lame stimulus effort. For all his work on health care reform, the poll shows that respondents’ views on whether the reform bill was a good idea or not has been almost unchanged since last July, when there was a -6% spread whereas it is -8% now.

The Stimulus: The White House went cheap on the stimulus at the same time it threw billions at Wall Street bailouts. It assumed that their package, loaded with GOP tax cuts that got them no bipartisan support to speak of, would start resonating with voters just in time for the midterms. They assumed wrong. Positive views of the stimulus were a net 48% last July, but are now down ten points to 38% in May while negative views are up 4 points and those with no opinion are up 5 points.

Financial Reform: There is a 17-point spread between those who feel that Congress is not doing enough to protect consumers from Wall Street (55%), and those that are concerned that financial reform will go too far. It’s lethal for respondents to still feel five months before the election that a Democratically-led Congress hasn’t gone far enough with Wall Street, which is also probably why majorities of respondents feel that both Republicans and Democrats care more about large corporations than they do average Americans. Watching Blue Dog and New Democrats fight reform efforts has only doomed the party as a whole, which should have been pursuing a much more populist agenda than it has been allowed to by the White House. Yet 71% of respondents feel the GOP cares more about corporations than average Americans.

Other Lessons: Despite anger at oil companies about the BP desecration of the Gulf of Mexico, the public still supports offshore oil drilling by a 26-point margin (60%-34%), and feels that the economic and energy independence arguments in favor of domestic offshore drilling outweigh the environmental harm. And by 30 points, respondents strongly or somewhat support the Arizona immigration law (64%) compared to the 34% who oppose it strongly or somewhat.

GOP/Tea Party Support: The Tea Party’s fifteen minutes are up; their negatives have gone up 9 points since January as has opposition to them. The poll shows that respondents’ support for the GOP has little to do with support of their agenda or positions, but everything to do with opposing Democrats and Obama. So by his refusal to take on the GOP for most of 2009 and unwillingness to pointedly confront them, Barack Obama has not only enabled them to rise as an empty political opposition against him and the party, but he’s also made it possible for voters to register a protest vote with a obstructionist party that managed to drag down the public’s views of him and the Democratic Party.

A first-year agenda that focused on a better stimulus bill, tough and immediate Wall Street reform, fewer bailouts, and more populism would have avoided all of this. Instead, Democrats find themselves facing an opposition party that's alive only as a protest vehicle without actual support for their agenda, that should have been buried by the White House long ago. And with the Democratic base facing future disappointments over White House support for sacrificing Social Security and Medicare to protect the military industrial complex and satisfy the elites, this president looks more and more like a Trojan Horse.

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