In a thoughtful piece at the Washington Post, former Chuck Schumer aide Jim Kessler sees the troubles facing congressional Democrats, but finds “five potentially decisive differences between 1994 and 2010.”
Now, to be sure, he makes some great points and each of the differences he cites is accurate and telling, but his argument as a whole is little more than wishful thinking. His basic point is that Democrats can limit their losses (preventing a repeat of 1994) if only, well, Democrats act more like Ronald Reagan*
If Democrats are to hold on in November, they must follow Reagan’s tack, sketching a vision for the future that has the United States leading the globe with the world’s strongest economy — one fueled by private-sector growth and a successful middle class. And they must resist the temptation to succumb to a populism that portrays members of the middle class as weak, powerless victims.
Problem is is that none of the current leaders of the Democratic Party is one bit like the Gipper. While Kessler is right to distinguish Nancy Pelosi from Tom Foley, the Democratic Speaker of the House in 1994, neither she nor Harry Reid nor the president himself possess Ronald Reagan’s charisma, optimism and commitment to principle. Nor does their vision align with that of the American people.
First, let me say, I highly recommend the article. It’s thoughtful, honest and devoid of the crass denigrations of conservatives we see all too often from pundits on the left. But, as I said, it’s full of wishful thinking.
For example, while he praises Pelosi for being less ineffectual and aloof than Foley, holding that “she sees polls each day from races across the country”, her very attitude suggests a real cluelessness about the trends in polling, with increasing distrust in the federal government and a growing concern about the size of the deficit registering in surveys from New Hampshire to New Mexico and from Ohio to Oregon.
While Mrs. Pelosi may be less aloof than Foley, she also comes across as, to borrow an adjective from Kessler, far less “gentle.” She rubs people the wrong way. Republican congressional candidates will benefit when they remind their constituents of their Democratic opponents” (especially the incumbents) support for Pelosi’s agenda. Some candidates are already running such ads. While Pelosi may be more politically astute than Foley was, she’s also more of a lightning rod.
By contrast, while incoming House Speaker John Boehner may be less of a political revolutionary than Newt Gingrich (as Kessler points out in contrasting the two), he is also less of a lightning rod than the former Speaker.
In highlighting the difference between the way the 103rd (1993-94) and 111th (current) Democratic Congresses handled one particular issue, Kessler stands on most shaky ground. He believes that it will help congressional Democrats that they passed a major overhaul of our health care system. Okay, then, if that’s the case, how come, as Politico’s Jim Vandehei put it, “Not a single Democrat has run an ad in support of the health care bill since April“.
I mean, if the issue benefited Democrats, surely, they’d be running ads in support of the legislation that occupied the better part of the current Congress. Despite the absence of such ads, Kessler contends:
Health-care reform may not be popular, but at least this Congress passed a bill. In 1994, the idea was both unpopular and a failure. This made Congress look feckless and leaderless. In addition, as pieces of the health-care bill are implemented, voters’ views on the legislation may be softening.
Emphasis added. May be softening? Um, Jim, Democrats (and their supporters — as we have witnessed in the comments sections at this blog) have been saying this at least since congressional Democrats pushed forward on this legislation while losing the debate with the American people. And polls continue to register strong opposition to Obamacare.
Even the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, perhaps the survey to have shown the greatest support for the overhaul during the debate, found “that support for health reform fell over the course of August, dipping from a 50 percent favorability rating in July to 43 percent, while 45 percent of the public reported unfavorable views.”
Kessler doesn’t cite this poll — or any poll for that matter — to back up his hope suggestion that voters’ views may be softening.
To be sure, he does cite one poll.
That poll, however, offers a false choice. “Our recent poll found that voters approved of a hypothetical candidate who supported Obama’s economic policies by 15 points over one who wanted to go back to Bush’s economic policies.” Democratic claims notwithstanding, Republicans today don’t want to return to Bush’s economic policies. Many (but, alas, not all) are talking about returning to the Gipper’s.
That said, I’m a little skeptical about the poll Kessler cites. Given his use of the first person plural to describe it, it probably comes from “Third Way” the “progressive” think tank where he works as vice president for policy.
By contrast, a recent poll from the Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling finds that “by a 50-42 margin voters” in the Buckey State “say they’d rather have George W. Bush in the White House right now than Barack Obama.” Now, to be sure, the pollsters are asking different questions, one about the policies of the two presidents, the other about the men themselves, but, well, Ohio has gone with the winner in every presidential election since 1964.
*For the record, we have another leftie acknowledging the Gipper’s accomplishments.