How Obama and the Dems Can Get Us Out of the Huge Economic Hole We're in
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Voters are in a surly temper. The economy stinks. Jobs are scarce. Wages are under pressure. One in 4 homes with mortgages is underwater. Retirement savings have been butchered; pensions are at risk. Bailed out bankers are paying themselves record bonuses. The oil keeps fouling the Gulf. And the jobs aren't coming back. It is ugly out here.
Not surprisingly, faith in Obama is starting to flag. According to a recent Washington Post poll, a startling 58% have only some or no faith that he will make the right decisions about the country's future. Congressional Democrats fare worse. Republicans would be salivating, only folks overwhelmingly don't want to rehire them either. A staggering 72% have little or no trust in congressional Republicans on the country's future.
And now the election season starts. Recently, President Obama traveled to Missouri in support of Senate candidate Robin Carnahan and delivered rousing speeches framing the choice the voters must make this fall. Republicans, he scorned, have "got that 'no' philosophy, that 'you're on your own' philosophy, the status quo philosophy -- a philosophy that says everything is politics and we're just going to gun for the next election, we don't care what it means for the next generation. And they figure if they just keep on saying no, it will work for them, they'll get more votes in November -- because if Obama loses, they win; if we can stop him then we'll look better."
This election, the president said, will offer a choice: "It's a choice between the policies that led us into this mess and the policies that are leading us out of this mess. It's a choice between falling backwards or moving forward."
His critique of Republicans has the advantage of being true. With unparalleled discipline, Republicans voted with virtual unanimity to obstruct every major reform offered by the president, breaking all records on filibusters along the way. To the extent that they offer any program, it is a retread of the very policies that drove us off the cliff -- top end tax cuts, deregulation, drill, baby drill, ardent defense of corporate subsidies and multinational trade accords. Their solution to health care, as Rep. Alan Grayson gibed, is don't get sick. Their solution to unemployment, as Republican Sen. Kyl and others have argued, is starve or work. ( Kyl opposes extending unemployment benefits, so people will be desperate enough to take jobs that pay far less, assuming they exist.)
Will voters vote for party of no -- or as John Boehner ranted, in a health care screed immortalized in a YouTube video, the party of "hell no, you can't?"
Well polls suggest that they just might. Off-year, low-turnout elections are the occasion to cast a protest vote. Voters aren't really voting for an opposition candidate or her or his policies, they are voting against. And that clearly is what Republicans are counting on.
Can a compelling choice be posed in midterm elections held in a bad economy?
The president would really like to campaign for credit for one of the most productive congressional sessions in decades. Against Republican obstruction, the White House and Democrats in Congress have passed the largest recovery act in history, the largest increase in student aid since the GI Bill, the most significant health care reform since Medicare, the greatest expansion of community service since Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the biggest investment in renewable energy ever. Congress passed, again, over virtually unified Republican opposition, the largest reform of finance since the 1930s. The White House will roll out studies on the benefits of the health care bill, the millions of jobs created by the stimulus, the consumer protections in financial reform. They'd like a little credit. If only people understood what we've done, they strongly believe, they'd reward us at the polls.