Speaker John Boehner was constrained to remark in a TV interview the other day that President Obama, during his recent State of the Union address, was looking out on members from the House and Senate that included 80 more Republicans than the last time he had done his State of the Union routine. Boehner’s beef — that the president’s speech should have reflected in tone and content the new Republican plurality, but didn’t — was of course no excuse for the scowl the speaker wore on his face while sitting in back of the president for the entire hour or so of the address. But it does underscore a need to follow up on our comments last time around about the healthy GOP majority of Boehner’s boast, and the distorted picture it paints of political reality across the landscape. And the role Democrats have accommodatingly played in facilitating this.
If last year’s midterm results didn’t light a fire, not under the average Democratic voter (since that clearly looks to be a stretch), but under those who consider themselves party leaders, heaven only knows what else would. The presidential election year of 2012 found Obama staring at a sizeable enough chunk of the electorate hating his guts, a GOP/Tea Party hierarchy obsessed with making the president a one-termer. The president’s bold Affordable Care Act, fraught with teething problems, taking heat from all sides and with an “Obamacare” label derisively attached, gave opponents what they felt sure was a winning arsenal. Yet Democratic strategists were able to rally the troops, again assembling the same coalition of the Democratic faithful and middle-ground moderates as in 2008, to pull off a second-term victory. Two years later, all of that boundless energy within the ranks dissipates and Democratic masterminds meekly cede the responsibility and power to energize to a Republican party that comes up on the wrong side of so much that ordinary people care about. An incredulous turn of events!
Gerrymandering in GOP-controlled states explains a disproportionate breakdown of Congressional seats that favors Republicans. It does not explain, even in borderline states, an incumbent Democrat or a new Democratic aspirant losing a Senate seat to the GOP, since gerrymandering isn’t a factor. The more likely scenario is Democrats losing such contests either because of a resources deficiency or simply being outmaneuvered by the other side. Either way, the Democratic party leadership’s pattern of a full-throttle, ramped up operation in presidential election years and markedly less pedal to the metal in off-year elections has been shown now, often enough, to be the inexplicable folly it is.
Democrats have a sizeable advantage, as far as the public siding with their views on what is America’s better way forward. On issue after issue, Republicans are out of synch with the majority public perception. On hiking the hourly federal minimum wage to $10.10 from the current $7.25, which Republicans in Congress steadfastly oppose, a Pew Research Center poll last year found raising the wage favored by 73 percent of respondents. One survey of small businesses, the regular Republican straw man in opposing this, found roughly two-thirds in favor of the wage hike. On giving priority to protection of the environment as opposed to allowing businesses to sidestep environmental considerations in the course of development plans, the public, by a healthy margin, again rejects the position of near indifference to environmental protection espoused by the GOP. On taxes, the public favors, by a wide margin, closing tax loopholes for large corporations that allow them to ship jobs overseas, another Republican no-no. And the public also gives broad support to raising taxes on the wealthy and big business to fund programs in education, job training, etc or, as the president has proposed, to offset a tax cut for middle-income earners. And the list goes on.
Given such broad public backing for where they stand, what excuse could there be for Democrats losing elections in places that aren’t irreversibly red? We know all about the Koch brothers and others of that ilk prepared to spend whatever it takes to make the country more red than it is. And we know about the con jobs and dirty dealing that could come into play in campaigns. But Democrats coming out second best in places where they have no business doing so can only be attributed to the party organization’s failure to up its game to the extent it has to.
If, institutionally, there’s a malaise that attends much of the Democratic base, when a hot presidential candidate isn’t leading the charge, then it’s obvious that purging the base of that off-year stupor requires a focus it hasn’t so far had from those calling the plays. Messaging may be wrong-headed, tactics as well. But devising effective means of sensitizing the troops to how critical is participation in the off-year game is priority bar none, to stem the tide of those losses by default.