What the Democrats Can Do to Ensure a GOP Year in 2012
Previously published on Nov 12, 2010
If Scott Brown's election to Edward Kennedy's former Senate seat was not a clear sign that the will of the People has shifted away from the Democrats, the 2010 Midterm Election should be. This means 2012 will be an impossible win for Democrats, unless they can make it just as difficult for the Republicans. Most importantly, Obama and his congressional friends need to find a way to get back into the good graces of the American people. Democrats can ensure a GOP year in 2012 by simply continuing on a path of denial, but they might earn a fighting chance if they fully embrace the outcome of the successful democratic exercise that was the Midterm Election. There are certainly many factors working against Democrats; however, the same is true of Republicans.
It will likely take years for our economy to fully recover from the Great Recession. Though jobs might be created at an accelerated pace, unemployment will remain high for years to come and the housing market will probably only start to truly recover after the 2012 Presidential Election. Meanwhile, the new economy that emerges does not appear to be one that will service the needs of the American people the way we expect it will. There are now few options for Democrats to advance the comprehensive economic agenda they were developing. Punishing Democrats for the state of the economy, as they promised government would make the situation better and Republicans pledged to remove government, which is somehow the total cause of the Recession, will be all but guaranteed.
On the other hand, the long-term benefits of Democratic economic policies are already starting to take hold. Like FDR, Obama may be able to argue that Democrats are the ones who will revive our economy to serve the American People instead of the rich. Just days after the Midterm, Obama left on a trip to further economic and diplomatic ties in Asia both against Chinese economic power and to rebuild American power. Should Democrats be able to equate Democratic negotiated trade agreements to greater economic growth through job creation and Republican negotiated free trade agreement to outsourcing, they have a perfect argument for 2012 that could help them retain, at least, the Presidency and the Senate.
That said, everything the Obama Administration and Congress undertakes in the next two years must be framed as an effort to restart the jobs market. Republicans have been able to equate both the looming National Debt and the underhanded nature of the legislative process to economic failure. Because the Democrats will be punished for allowing the Republicans to block the legislative process and the Obama Administration is more than capable of pursuing major pieces of legislation, the beginning of 2011 should be marked by the Obama Administration handing the House a comprehensive reform of the Budget built up from his Debt Commission's report, i.e. set the Boehner agenda and let the minority prove it is more effective than the GOP leadership, then the Obama Administration should role out major, non-controversial, legislative reforms somewhere in the middle of the year.
The most devastating thing President Obama and his allies can do is fail to demonstrate Democrats get the message. Continuing to blame the anti-incumbency wave for Democratic losses in 2010, as one bold example, is one thing the Democrats need to immediately stop as not getting it both emboldens those who were punishing Democrats and discourages those who did, or neglected, to vote for Democrats. With jobs as the overreaching framework for legislative efforts, taking on Budget Reform and the smelly legislative process in order to rebuild our Country is the best way to show Democrats get it. Where Republicans and Democrats disagree on specific policy changes, Democrats need to allow open discussion, which means they cannot insert controversial measures. It also sets up Republicans to create controversy against their Party should they try to muddle the process to the disfavor of Americans.
Furthermore, Democratic politics today is more like cramming than studying. Republicans embrace simple slogans to drive support for policies, which are far simpler to explain than Democratic policies, often revolving around disengaged government. The GOP also uses nuances like pro-labor equals anti-business as secret language to invigorate supporters and create suspicion among potential swing voters. Meanwhile, it is important to recognize the intellectual components of the decision making process are generally crystallized in favor of a candidate long before the decision is actually made. This means last minute political efforts to turn out a failing Democratic campaign are far less likely to be effective than a Republican effort to push a lagging candidate ahead. The net result is a need for Democrats to campaign early with intellectually driven discussions then move toward clever, emotion provoking slogans that sum up the position of the candidate.
Republicans spent the end of the 2010 Midterm Election cycle pushing slogans like "Republicans are listening." One thing potential Democratic candidates can do, which is something the Democratic Party can also do on a large scale, is to put some resources into a "we're listening campaign," where Party representatives visit constituents in neglected territories, especially neglected red areas. Under such a campaign, Democrats should then engage voters in discussion to find out what they expect from their government and feel government should do for them while pushing beyond simple stances like lower taxes and less government. This would allow Democrats to make their intellectual arguments as well as give them an opportunity to demonstrate they are actually listening to everyone. Where Republicans can simply say something, thanks to their no government approach, Democrats need to demonstrate their efforts are sincere and possible, despite the government's track record
Meanwhile, people like John Boehner and even Mitch McConnell, with his controversial remarks, do not scream public enemy number one, so Democrats can easily lose 2012 due to the political liabilities of their leadership. Without regard to personal opinion on the former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi has become the symbol for all of the Democratic Party's faults. In fact, she is used to turn other Democratic figures into liabilities, thus she cannot be in the spotlight. Her pursuit of formal power in House as the Minority Leader is one surefire way of continuing the Republican wins into 2012. If she is inline to become the next Speaker of the House, Republican will use the same very effective tactics they used to make every moderate Democrat look like an extremists in 2012 against the favor Obama and every other Democrat. As much anger as her name garners among right wingers and moderates, two years is not enough time to forget.
Finally, voters are tired of how our political system works. It will be tempting for Democrats to rely on overly negative campaigning and attack ads. On balance, each Democratic candidate must have a perceived positive campaign with constructive negative ads targeting only the policy views of candidates while attack ads will not be acceptable. Most importantly, dwelling on the past instead of looking forward will cost Democrats more than anything. Intellectually speaking, most Americans understand the Bush Administration screwed up and Obama cannot be blamed for everything, but they also feel the Democrats did not do what they promised and it is now the Republican's turn to try. As such, candidates must show a way forward instead of simply criticizing the past, because hope is what they were looking for when Obama was elected and renewed, honest hope is what Democrats need to give voters in order not to lose in 2012.