Dems Need To Start Distancing Themselves
More than five years into the Obama presidency, let me say that the Democratic Party will see nothing beneficial from eight years of tying themselves to this president and those around him. I know that’s a strong statement, and yes, I supported Hillary in 2008. But the Democratic Party went with hope and change in 2008, and had a right to expect a commitment to accountability as the building block of that change, and had a right to expect that those in the administration were competent and had a clear-eyed understanding of the forces lined up against change. Now, heading into a midterm where Democrats already expect a bad outcome from being chained to this administration, it’s time to focus on what the Party needs to do for itself regardless of whether or not it aligns with the White House agenda.
As for the midterms, the party and its vulnerable incumbents are correctly squawking about the anvil effect this president is having on their own prospects this year. Much of it stems from the inexcusable self-inflicted wounds the administration suffered from the Obamacare website rollout, which allowed the GOP to regroup from its own self-inflicted wounds from the government shutdown. But the website is only part of the problem: five years in, this administration has shown itself unable to maintain a consistent focus on an economic agenda that works for both the country and the Democratic Party, and has made a mockery of its own campaign rhetoric about civil liberties and Wall Street accountability. This administration has done virtually nothing for the middle class, and it’s abdication on Wall Street prosecutions, the mortgage crisis, and trade policy is shameful. Taken all together, Democrats are doing themselves more damage with each passing day that they wait for this White House to seize the banner and present a clear message and agenda.
Regarding the immediate challenge for this year’s races, if Obama is a liability, then there are really only two choices for the Democrats: move beyond Obama now with a new national figure that can lift the party’s electability, or make each race local. The first option involves having Hillary and Bill replace the president and campaign all across the country for all vulnerable Democrats with an explicit move forward from this administration towards 2016. Aside from whether this would work or not (I think it would in many races), Hillary shows no inclination that she’d move away from high-dollar speechmaking at this time to assume the mantle of party leadership while the president is still more than two years away from leaving office. That leaves the other option, which is for each Democratic senator or representative up for election this year to localize the choice with constituents as one between a Democrat focused on local needs or a Koch brothers-funded Obama hater accountable to elites outside the district. But to sell this, Democratic senators and representatives will have to part openly with the White House now and argue for an agenda of jobs, real healthcare fixes, and protecting women and the safety net like Social Security and Medicare, all while telling voters they should insist that GOP challengers put forward their solutions, and not just the talking points.
The fact that the Democratic Party finds itself in this predicament after five years of Obama is instructive for the next time a flash-in-the-pan candidate steals the party’s imagination. The disappointments and failed promises are staggering. Has this administration held Wall Street accountable for the crash, or simply let them get away with it? Has this administration lived up to its rhetoric on civil liberties, or has it been part of the problem in shielding the CIA and NSA from real oversight? Does this administration talk a good game about building a coalition that can last years, only to ignore young voters and turn a blind eye to their desires for an economic future? Even now, this administration spends more time beating the podium about executive orders than it does about a major jobs program. It is an abject sign of Obama’s failure that the country still sees the economy and jobs as our major problems after five years, because that spills over onto Democrats. Yes, we can blame the GOP all we want, but if Obama had focused on the economy and Wall Street during his first two years and then spent the next two years clearly showing voters how the GOP had no real solutions, the party and the country wouldn’t be where they’re at right now.
Despite all the whistling past the graveyard of late about the improving fortunes for Obamacare regarding the Medicaid expansion, the Democratic Party needs to quietly develop a survival plan for the post-midterm period that takes Obamacare off the table as a continuing albatross for Hillary and the 2016 Democratic class. Such a plan would involve telling the GOP that Democrats are willing to change the program, but only in ways they will support, even if it means going against Obama and pursuing veto override votes. Let voters see a choice in 2016 between a GOP whose only real healthcare solution is a total repeal, and a Democratic Party wanting to fix the program even if it means going against their own president. I’ll happily take that framing for the campaign.
For the Democrats to see this White House and president as an albatross this early in the second term tells you volumes about the choice made in 2008.