With midterm elections approaching and polls showing Republicans set to make gains in both the House and Senate, Democrats are moving to counter conservative momentum. These strategies may remind voters why the party is in such trouble in the first place.
While George W. Bush left office nearly two years ago, don't expect Democrats to let the former president become a distant memory anytime soon. Bush is set to be a primary focus of struggling Democrats, who saw gains in the last two elections, but are now struggling in polls.
Meanwhile, the White House desperately searches for new villains by adding John Boehner to a list that includes Joe Garton and Mitch McConnell as obstructionist Republicans. Garton made headlines when he said BP was owed an apology from the government in the early days of the disaster. Months later, the White House continues to use his name to conjure up bad feelings for the minority party.
While tarnishing the names of political foes, Democrats have also decided to harness the power of a deep and thoughtful countermovement propaganda campaign. The Agenda Project, a progressive organization, has announced the “F*** Tea Project,” an organization whose purpose is “to dismiss the Tea Party and promote the progressive cause.”
The group symbolizes the disconnect between elitist Washington liberals and the growing populist and libertarian backlash to all things incumbent. The group’s name alone symbolizes the arrogance Democrats have shown toward their own constituents, and just how badly out of touch Beltway liberals are. This isn’t a grassroots group, or a collection of 14-year-olds with bad language. This is a serious political group whose founder, Erica Payne, is a former National Democratic Committee official who helped found Democracy Alliance. The group was responsible for at least $100 million in fundraising for Democratic causes.
Between the profanity and negative campaigning, conspicuous by its absence in these election strategies is the Democratic legislative record. After two years, the party should be able to tout cap-and-trade, Wall Street regulations, health care reform, the auto bailouts, and the stimulus as grand accomplishments. But it can’t. Because most of these policies are deeply unpopular.
Democrat polling woes begin with the flawed notion of electoral salvation through health care reform. It was the Democrats’ false belief that failing to reform health care in the early 1990s is the reason why Republicans swept Democrats out of office in 1994. However, polling has shown the opposite. While most voters want health care reform, they do not approve of the manner in which it was handled. Voters did not approve of the reform that did take place -- which was short on market-oriented fixes and long on government heavy-handedness. While polling was favorable in some instances for reform overall, Democrats ignored the fact that most people, some 70-percent, were happy with their present health insurance.
Yet, all of the same complaints remain: The two years spent on passing the legislation has doomed Democrats, while the economy has failed to recover. The Obama stimulus package came on the heels of an already unpopular TARP bailout by Bush. With spending at record levels, confidence in the American economy has fallen. Obama’s promises of unemployment staying below 8-percent are long and distant memories. Unemployment has hovered near 10 for over a year, and much higher in struggling industrial states where Democrats made major gains the last two elections.
To counter their own failures, Democrats are attempting to remind voters of who they replaced, namely Bush, who they say sank the economy by kowtowing to corporate-Wall Street interests. A dubious connection to make, given the dirty hands of those like Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters, Chris Dodd and federal institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
There are numerous problems with this strategy. The statute of limitations on blaming the White House predecessor has long-since passed. The open condemnation of Bush by Obama, in press conference after press conference, fell strikingly flat. It was also unprecedented. New presidents take responsibility for the present condition of the country they govern, but this was lost on Obama and hasn’t reflected well upon him. It ran opposite of the hope-and-change feel-good rhetoric the Obama campaign was founded on. Despite this, the administration is set on picking fights with the old administration, as well as dissenters in the media such as Jim Cramer, Rush Limbaugh and others.
This strategy has been a failure for many reasons. Republicans such as McConnell or Boehner have little public recognition outside of Washington or circles where partisan minds are already made. Turning its focus to Bush hasn’t work, but the party with an unpopular agenda is finding it has little choice.
With such an untenable position, no wonder Democrats are lashing out with groups using expletive-laden names and dubious agendas. And it’s no wonder why voters are lashing out. In the months leading into the 2010 midterms, Democrats have showed they aren’t capable of a serious campaign, let alone serious government.
B.J. Bethel is a journalist based in the Midwest and writes about politics, sports and film.