Business

After failing test in midterms, Prez takes the ‘professional left’ to school.

By  | 


Frequently heard conventional wisdom on the left attributes the poor Democratic election performance to a bad economy and disenchanted liberal voters staying home. The logical inference of that wisdom is that an improving economy and a “stay the course” liberal agenda for this administration is all that is needed to restore the Obama coalition to its 2008 glory. Last week, Anne Kim and Stefan Hawkin of Third Way and Lincoln Park Strategies released a post-election survey that tested the conventional wisdom and found it wanting:

Politico – Who really abandoned Dems?

The Obama voters who stayed home this year (the “droppers”) or who switched their vote to Republican (the “switchers”) are neither disgruntled and de-motivated liberals. Nor are they raging tea partiers. Rather, they are overwhelmingly moderate to moderate conservative. Bipartisanship is what they demand. And the role of government, deficits and the economy are their major concerns. In a post-election survey by Third Way and Lincoln Park Strategies, we polled 500 droppers and 500 switchers. Our findings make one point clear: The path to regaining or retaining power for both parties isn’t toward the right or left. It’s from the center out…

Switchers are unhappy about deficits. The top-ranked reason cited by switchers for voting Republican was “too much government spending” (66 percent cited this). And while 64 percent of switchers say deficits are a “serious problem that are weakening the economy,” three in four don’t think Democrats are either “serious about reducing the deficit” or “responsible with taxpayer dollars.”

The surveyDroppers” and “Switchers”: The Fraying Obama Coalition

66% of switchers say “too much government spending” was a major reason for their decision not to vote Democratic this year. This is the number-one ranked factor switchers gave in our poll.

  • 64% of switchers say deficits are a “serious problem that are weakening the economy” (versus 32% who say “deficits are a concern but we have more pressing priorities”).
  • 76% don’t think Democrats are “serious about reducing the deficit.”
  • 78% don’t think Democrats are “responsible with taxpayer dollars.”

In fact, 68% of switchers say they would be more likely to support President Obama in 2012 if he offered a serious proposal to reduce the deficit.

Apparently President Obama and his political brain trust were diligently taking notes while getting schooled in the midterms. On Monday President Obama announced a federal employee pay freeze for non-military employees. On Tuesday he met with congressional leadership and assured the American people that he heard the voice of the voters:

The American people did not vote for gridlock. They didn’t vote for unyielding partisanship. They’re demanding cooperation and they’re demanding progress. And they’ll hold all of us –- and I mean all of us –- accountable for it. And I was very encouraged by the fact that there was broad recognition of that fact in the room. I just want to say I thought it was a productive meeting. I thought that people came to it with a spirit of trying to work together. And I think it’s a good start as we move forward. I think everybody understands that the American people want us to focus on their jobs, not ours. They want us to come together around strategies to accelerate the recovery and get Americans back to work. They want us to confront the long-term deficits that cloud our future.

I have one quibble with the President’s statement. While technically true that the American people may not have voted specifically for gridlock, and while he is also correct they would prefer bipartisan cooperation controlling spending, they did make it clear they’ll happily take gridlock over the kind of crappy and stupidly expensive steamrolled partisan legislation that passed in the last Congress. But, in the bipartisan spirit of taking a bipartisan hatchet to a slashed bipartisan budget, we’ll overlook that nit.

Minutes after the President’s statement, the co-chairs of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform had a press conference to announce that their final report on a deficit cutting plan will be delivered on Wednesday and voted on Friday. Regarding the vote, the Democratic co-chair Erskine Bowles said

“… whatever happens, the commission will have achieved “victory” by starting a national conversation about the federal debt. ‘The era of deficit denial in Washington is over,’ the North Carolinian and former Clinton White House chief of staff drawled.”

I agree.

Wednesday, the President’s bipartisan deficit commission delivered their final report. In three days, the top three stories out of Washington were all about fiscal responsibility, controlling spending and deficits. President Obama and the President’s commission are leading the charge. Real, meaty, substantial proposals are being put on the table. If it were not for wikileaks, this is all we would be talking about, and that is a very good thing.

To be honest, I am irrationally exuberant over these developments and in danger of losing my cynicism. I suspect hope that we going to make real progress on federal spending and the deficit this time. Let me hasten to add that I am not completely delusional. If done correctly, this process will be contentious, noisy, the air will be filled with partisan cries, lamentations and the bellowing of gored oxen. Undoubtedly I will be among those gnashing teeth, tearing hair, and complaining bitterly about whatever makes it out of the sausage grinder. But at least we appear to be starting down a path to some semblance of what passes for fiscal responsibility in Washington D.C.

I have one simple reason for my optimism: The President and his political advisers understand his re-election in 2012 depends on restraining spending and the deficit. Republicans in Congress understand their re-election and majorities in the House and Senate in 2012 depend on restraining spending and the deficit. Even some Democrats in Congress understand their re-election in 2012 depends on restraining spending and the deficit. David Axelrod thinks it important enough to ramp up the Audacity of Astroturf troops mere days after the mid-term.

Even as small a step as the President’s initative on the pay freeze has many on the left up in arms. Obiously still in denial, they found the President’s initiative to be vexing, a capitulation, an ineffectual ploy, bad negotiations, symbolic, doublespeak, blasphemy, stupid, gutless, cretinous, anti-union, pointless, a sellout and a blunder (among other things).

OTOH, those that “get it” understand exactly how damaging this chart was to Obama and the Democratic Party in the midterms. Private sector jobs were lost by the millions, but under this administration public sector jobs (that pay better with greater security than the private sector) were protected. Given the close relationship and massive financial support the Democrats and Obama received from public sector unions like SEIU, it just did not look good. Voters were angry. With the help of letter from a reader, even Ezra Klein gets it now (almost).

Republicans will predictably say that it is weak gruel, and does not go far enough. But, it is a start. Given the depth of the hole our representatives and leaders dug for us over the last ten years, this may be exactly the start we need now.

Thank you Mr. President. If you stay on this path you may even get re-elected, and we can keep our happily divided government.

Cross posted from Divided We Stand United We Fall.

Edited to correct typos.