Our political Quote of the Day is actually comprised of a batch of quotes from independent, centrist writer John Avlon, who worked for former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, appears on CNN and has a new book out Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America.
In a post on The Daily Beast, he argues that GOPer Scott Brown’s upset victory in supposedly liberal Democratic Massachusetts was a wake up call for the Democrats and may not be what conservative Republicans are suggesting it is:
Independent voters finally have the political establishment’s attention. The red state vs. blue state fiction that has dominated politics for too long is starting to be seen as the fraud it is.
Under the play-to-the-base vision of politics bequeathed to us by Karl Rove, a stereotypical “blue” state like Massachusetts never should have voted for a Republican. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee apparently believed that as well.
But the 51 percent of Massachusetts voters who are registered independent didn’t get the memo. They’re the reason that the Bay State voted for three Republican governors beginning with Bill Weld between Mike Dukakis and current Gov. Deval Patrick. And this week they declared their independence again by voting pro-choice Republican Scott Brown to succeed Ted Kennedy in the Senate.
He sees segments of each party missing the point:
While conservatives crow about Brown’s victory, misreading it as a mandate for their movement, liberal Democrats are in denial.
Avlon notes in detail some on the Democratic left who are now clamoring for President Barack Obama to be more unabashedly liberal and partisan and writes:
It’s no coincidence that these voices resemble Republicans after independents threw them out in 2006.
These arguments are comforting to the extremes because they are self-reinforcing—they say no change is needed except to play further to the base. They ignore some essential facts. According to the Pew Research Center, only 15 percent of Americans call themselves conservative Republicans and 11 percent describe themselves as liberal Democrats. Independents are the largest and fastest-growing segment of the electorate—and their ranks are rising in reaction to the polarization of the two parties.
Independents have actually been consistent between 2006 and today. They are fiscal conservatives but liberal-to-libertarian on social issues. They are deficit hawks going back to at least Ross Perot’s independent campaign for the presidency in 1992. And they distrust the ideological arrogance and legislative overreach that tends to occur when one party controls both Congress and the White House. That was true under Bush and Tom DeLay and it’s true under Obama and Nancy Pelosi today
He notes that some liberals are urging Obama to abandon any attempts to capture the center and to instead match the kind of populism that the tea party movement represents. He concludes:
Attempts to write Obama’s political obituary—from the right or left—are absurdly premature. But the many independents who supported him in 2008—in swing states like Virginia and New Jersey and even Massachusetts—are saying clearly that this wasn’t the change they voted for. Independents believed Obama when he promised to bridge the old divides of left vs. right, black vs. white, and red state vs. blue state. They oppose the hyper-partisanship and over-spending we still seem to be getting from Washington. They don’t want more ideology; they want to see the politics of problem-solving. Bill Clinton needed to lose control of Congress in 1994 to get the message and declare “the era of big government is over.” Barack Obama can save himself the same pain by declaring in his State of the Union speech next week: “The era of play-to-the-base politics is over.”
Avlon’s point is a crucial one.
Winning over the center and doing coalition politics is difficult in any era, and particularly tough in an era where there are literally millions of dollars that depend on polarizing voters who listen to and watch talk shows so that key demographics can be sliced off and neatly delivered to advertisers. Readership numbers, broadcast attention, etc. usually go to those who can say the most outrageous, outlandish or often polarizing things. It’s a fact of 21st century America that nuance may be thoughtful but it doesn’t sell. And it may not produce needed votes.
But as we have noted here many times during the Bush era: a President is in big trouble if he turns out to be a President of the base by the base and for the base. As difficult as it is, Obama has to start to woo voters that will regain the kind of coalition that got him into office, not just to win re-election but to regain his rapidly diminishing political CLOUT.
And the warning signs for him are now crystal clear:
On the same day that Avlon’s post appears, there’s this new Gallup Poll that indicates that Barack Obama has not turned out to be a post-partisan President but the most polarizing first year President ever.
Both sides will argue whether this is due to Obama’s actions or due to the fact that before he even set his fanny in the Oval Office partisans such as Rush Limbuagh, Sean Hannity and some GOPers in Congress were indicating that they were going to steadfastly oppose Obama — and demonization started before he even took his oath of office. Why he has this rating is less relevant than the existing perception which Obama must change.
The 65 percentage-point gap between Democrats’ (88%) and Republicans’ (23%) average job approval ratings for Barack Obama is easily the largest for any president in his first year in office, greatly exceeding the prior high of 52 points for Bill Clinton.
Overall, Obama averaged 57% job approval among all Americans from his inauguration to the end of his first full year on Jan. 19. He came into office seeking to unite the country, and his initial approval ratings ranked among the best for post-World War II presidents, including an average of 41% approval from Republicans in his first week in office. But he quickly lost most of his Republican support, with his approval rating among Republicans dropping below 30% in mid-February and below 20% in August. Throughout the year, his approval rating among Democrats exceeded 80%, and it showed little decline even as his overall approval rating fell from the mid-60s to roughly 50%.
Thus, the extraordinary level of polarization in Obama’s first year in office is a combination of declining support from Republicans coupled with high and sustained approval from Democrats. In fact, his 88% average approval rating from his own party’s supporters is exceeded only by George W. Bush’s 92% during Bush’s first year in office. Obama’s 23% approval among supporters of the opposition party matches Bill Clinton’s for the lowest for a first-year president. But Clinton was less popular among Democrats than Obama has been to date, making Obama’s ratings more polarized.
Obama should read Avlon’s post…..