A meaty political Quote of the Day comes via MSNBC’s must-read First Read’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg, who make a telling observation about a trait of current behavior among Democrats:
If we told you that Democrats were favored to lose about eight Senate seats (six of which are in states Obama carried in ’08), lose some 30 to 40 in the House, and see their top domestic issue — health care — stalled in Congress, you’d guess that President Obama’s approval rating was, what, 35%? Maybe 40%? But as any close follower of American politics knows, Obama’s approval is at or near 50% (even at 53% in the always-volatile Gallup daily track). Yet Democrats, including what we saw and heard from Evan Bayh yesterday, are behaving like Obama is at 35%. This is particularly ironic when we’re just a year-plus removed from a president whose approval was 25% to 30%. There is no doubt that this is a TOUGH political environment for Democrats, but are they making it tougher by running for the hills when things might not be as bad for them as was the GOP’s situation from 2006-2008? And what does it say about the Democrats and their ability to govern when they’re acting like this when their president is at 50%? Republicans rallied around their president in ’04, when he was hovering around 50%.
Firstly, part of the reason for the Democrat’s panic is that it is increasingly clear — as it has been for some time — that the concepts of consensus and true bipartisanship are at the very least on life support and the patient is in the seemingly final stages. This helps create an aura of panic for the faint hearted — and increasingly that’s how many Democrats are beginning to look. Secondly, the way 21st century America’s political and media culture now operates with the influence of polarizing left and right talk show hosts, and weblogs that are not really citizen journalism as much as citizen op-eds or political activists’ sites defending their side and going after the other, perception colored by partisan viewpoints becomes reality.
Once upon a time, the New York Times unquestionably determined the country’s news cycles and “conventional wisdom” perceptions. Now the little seed that grows the plant can come from ideologically committed blogs or talk show hosts, pushing a story into the mainstream media where it then becomes conventional wisdom.
The Democrats’ problem is that by putting out messages about how they perceive their party leader President, they are feeding into and affirming the emerging narrative which — as First Read points out — may not be an entirely accurate one. Republicans would help feed narrative another way in word and deed: the act as if they have a mandate and use power accordingly.
Moreover, the Democrats face a larger problem they need to ponder.
After the 2008 elections many commentaries said the Democrats had a golden opportunity to show they could govern and build a new majority. Even factoring into it the GOP’s clear decision to go negative and oppose Obama before he even set his fanny in his Oval Office chair, the Democrats are feeding to the perceptions — shaped in part by problems in the Presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton — that when Democrats get into power rather than get together and act as team to reach political goals, they splinter or feud or can’t work as a determined team to take advantage of the power they won.
Republicans get into power and it’s hard for their foes to dislodge them since they use every iota of the newly won political and bureaucratic power to advance their agenda and institutionalize their party’s influence. Democrats get into power and in the end dislodge themselves.
Is this the path the Democrats are heading on now?
Conservatives long claimed that the country was moving in a conservative direction and the future was theirs. After 2008, many pundits said the country had moved leftwards. But is the country now heading right again because the Democrats failed to jump through their window of opportunity opened by the 2008 elections — notwithstanding obstacles and sandbagging that confronted them?
With the recent epidemic of Democratic Congressional retirements, 2010 is shaping up a year that many Democrats may wish they could have skipped.
Let alone 2012….
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.