By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The Democrats won a tremendous national victory in 2008—and in the ensuing six months managed to squander it.
The party of FDR, JFK, Carter, and Clinton now controls the White House, the House of Representatives, and, by a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority, the United States Senate. At the federal level they have the numbers that allow them to pass any piece of legislation they want without winning a single Republican vote and to have it signed into law. And they're stuck.
They're stuck because the political winds have shifted. Their major legislative and policy priorities—like closing down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans (however they are defined), ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—are going nowhere. Even on issues they tell us have widespread, popular support like reforming healthcare and the cap and trade energy tax, things have ground to a halt with many analysts wondering if anything will ever be passed on either subject. The vaunted Obama grassroots machine, such an important part of his victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary and over John McCain in the 2008 presidential contest, seems to have all but withered on the vine.
Obama's approval numbers have fallen farther and faster than almost any president's in recent history. Things are even worse for the Democratically-controlled Congress, with the combined average approval among several recent national polls revealing almost 4 out of every 5 Americans disapproves of the job that California Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Nevada Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and their colleagues are doing.
In response the Democrats have begun to question the Republicans—not on their healthcare position or support for tax cuts—but on their Americanism.
As Politico reported Monday, Maryland Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, accused members of the GOP of "starting to put politics first and country second," adding that "The American people are starting to wonder if they are rooting against America."
Van Hollen and the other Democrats raising this issue are returning to what they think is a safe harbor. Shortly after Obama's election, when his approval numbers were high enough to break through the stratosphere, the idea that anyone wanted the president to—as radio's Rush Limbaugh put it—"fail" was enough to set tongues wagging in disapproval.
That was then, when Obama's numbers—indeed the approval numbers for the entire Democratic Party—were artificially inflated and unsustainable. Now their legislative agenda is stalled and unpopular with at least half the country. The president was handed an embarrassing defeat by the International Olympic Committee. The war in Afghanistan is heating up. And the people, it comes as no surprise, are taking another look at the folks whom they elected to run the country. Too clever by half, vague appeals to patriotism based on the fact that some people are pleased Obama and the Chicago political machine got the high hat over the Olympics is not enough to shift popular sentiment.
For the Democrats to regain momentum, they need to moderate their program and find ways to compromise with the Republicans. The all or nothing, my way or the highway approach they have used up to now is not working. Allowing the Chicago-San Francisco axis to be in charge is proving costly, in fact may prove too costly. With the Republicans running even with or slightly ahead on most of the recent national ballot tests, the Democrats would do well to consider what they have done so far as a failed experiment. Rather than point fingers at their opponents and call them names and question their patriotism, they need to find ways to reach compromises with them or they are going to remain right where they are: stuck in the political mud.