Saturday, September 04, 2010

About Obama's base problem

Michael recently posted here about Obama's gay problem. Some good thoughts, but a little extension is necessary to get things in full perspective.

Obama does not have a problem with gays, he has a problem with the base across the board, and that is largely because he is underperforming across the board. That underperforming has a real cost in the enthusiasm gap.

If people turned out in 2010 at 2008 levels, the Democrats would be outright winning in North Carolina and very, very competitive in half a dozen other close races. As it stands, we will probably hold the Senate, but just barely.

Obama has not played hardball with Conservadems, let alone the GOP. He negotiates away the store before even coming to the table. He has not made proper or effective use of reconciliation in the Senate, and has not been forceful about the consequences of electing the Party of No. He has not been active in shaping policy and in selling policy in Congress.

He has not used his executive powers. He could order a stop to DADT, but he does not. He could choose not to defend anti-gay legislation in court, but he does not. HAMP is under "administrative" control and could work well if Obama chose to make it so. Congress voted down the idea of a Social Security panel, but Obama convened one anyway and stacked it with conservatives. He could restore full habeas corpus, but he does not.

Obama has direct control of TARP funds, and there are about $500 billion to play with. That's a lot of stimulus if he were to use it. He could use it to relieve distressed debt and turn a profit for the government while doing so. He could go after banks gouging customers by skirting credit card rules. He could be actively involved and upfront in pushing an agenda.

Another thing to consider is civil rights. As many people have noted recently, it's embarrassing when many prominent GOP leaders are to the left of Obama on gay rights. It's embarrassing when in debates such as Fiorina/Boxer the other night the GOP candidate justifies her opposition to equal rights by quoting the sitting Democratic president.

And gays have started to notice. You see, emphasizing one's own sexual orientation can lead one toward certain conclusions on civil rights but does little to inform one's opinions on taxation, protecting the environment, energy policy, immigration, etc. I think it's fair to say that a lot of gays lean Democratic not because they are inherently liberal so much as because they see few options as the GOP has been so hostile towards gays the last couple of decades.

In a recent column, Dan Savage observes that for all the rhetoric and chest-beating over recent past electoral cycles, the Democrats have done very little good, and the Republicans have done relatively little harm, at least in terms of revoking such gay rights advances as have been made. Bush got a blank check from Congress, yet we have no federal marriage amendment, and DADT and DOMA were Democratic inventions. Savage asks:

Say the GOP went to gay voters and promised to do no harm -- no FMA, no more culture war nonsense, no efforts to block gay people from becoming parents -- while at the same time pointing out that the Dems haven't done much good. That argument won't peel lefty and progressive gays and lesbians, a.k.a. the majority of gay and lesbian voters, off the Democrats. But it might convince conservative homos that they can safely vote Republican, blunting the Democrats' advantage with small-but-significant chunk of the electorate. (There are more gay and lesbian voters than Jewish voters.)

It's something the Democrats need to be considering.

The base is demoralized, feeling neglected and abused, if not outright misled. That's not good. Obama got people out because they felt they had something to vote for. That's not the case this year for Democrats. And they will pay in November if something doesn't change, and change soon.

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  • Obama's problem is he won't play hardball with ANYONE on anything. So many members of his own party have needed to be slapped around a long time ago, but now it's too late for that to do any good. As a result, all the "achievements" he manages to get through are compromised to the point of being almost toothless. He should have realized early on that he never would have lost popularity taking on members of both parties. Instead, he'll back a Blanche Lincoln who will surely lose, or a newcomer like Specter over a truer Dem such as Sestak. Hell, he doesn't even have the balls to fire Alan Simpson. He'll never dump Rahm or Geithner as he should.

    By Blogger Edward Copeland, at 4:30 PM  

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