Mar 25th 2010

An Optimistic Democrat's Guide to 2010

by Dylan Loewe

Dylan is a regular op-ed contributor for The Guardian

It's been a pretty amazing week for Democrats. And for those looking for more good news, there is plenty to be had on the horizon. Democrats are still facing an uphill battle in November; without a miraculous economic recovery or a deafening Republican scandal, Democrats are almost sure to lose at least 15 seats in the House and at least a couple in the Senate.

That's the best case scenario. The worst case is that they lose upwards of 30 house seats and as many as 8 senate seats. The difference between the two is stark. If the losses are on the lower range, the president will still have a good chance of seeing his agenda through in 2011 and 2012. But on the higher range, his entire legislative portfolio will almost surely come to a halt.

The difference matters. And with that in mind, there are some exciting things happening now that should give Democrats plenty of reason to feel optimistic.

Health Care: "A Big Fucking Deal"
At this point it's unclear whether the health care bill itself will be of value to the Democrats in November. A recent USA Today poll had Americans favoring the bill 49-40. But those numbers have yet to be reconfirmed by another poll. If Democrats (and the media) turn out to be better at explaining the health care law than they were at explaining the health care bill, the package has the potential to gain in popularity, perhaps even in the short term. That would, of course, have substantial implications for the outcome of the November elections. But even if health care reform's contents continue to get mixed reviews from the public, its passage still offers plenty of political value to Democrats this year.

Had Martha Coakley won her race, had the bill passed in January instead of March, it would have done so at a time when the Democratic party was deeply divided. Howard Dean was repeatedly calling for the Senate bill to be killed. So were Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz. So were Markos Moulitsas and Had the bill passed in January, it would have done so without the support of large portions of the American left.

But after spending eight weeks convinced that Democrats had failed, that the health care bill, however imperfect, was dead, the left rejoined the effort aggressively. The bill's ultimate victory was aided by liberal groups funding extensive ad campaigns and organizing to pressure wavering Democrats. By mid-March, 83% of members favored the bill.

In December, called for the bill to be killed. By March, they were fighting for it to be saved.

The end of the health care battle unified the Democratic base once again, and in success, it energized it.

And it did more than that. It proved that the mission of Obama campaign could be accomplished through the Obama presidency. It proved that change can happen in Washington even when Washington is at its worst. At a time when Democratic candidates are struggling, the party just had its proudest victory since 1965.

Job Growth on the March
A new Bloomberg poll found that nearly two out of three Americans believe that the economy got worse over the last year. It's actually gotten much better. As the Bloomberg article notes, "During that period, a bull market has driven up the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index more than 73 percent since its low on March 9, 2009. The economy grew at a 5.9 percent annual pace during last year's fourth quarter."

The recovery is happening, but the most easily translatable measure -- job creation -- has characteristically lagged behind. This month may very well be the end of that trend. The economy lost 36,000 jobs in February, but many economists have speculated that if not for the major snowstorms that battered the East Coast, the country would have experience positive job growth that month.

What didn't happen for February may very well happen for March.

At some point soon, the country is going to start experiencing six-figure job growth month after month after month. Until that happens, the public is likely to continue to feel pessimistic about the economy. But when it does finally happen -- as it may this month -- it could change the public's perception entirely.

What's Good for the Tea Party is Good for the ... Democratic Party?
Harry Reid is supposed to lose his reelection. He's been spending enormous sums of money advertising his accomplishments back home in Nevada, and in return, his standing in the polls has gotten worse, not better. He has a favorability rating worth retiring over.

But now it appears that the Tea Party has qualified for the Nevada ballot, and that a Tea Party challenger might change the outcome of the race. A recent Rasmussen survey found Reid trailing both of his potential Republican opponents by 13 points. But when you add a Tea Party candidate into the mix, everything changes. Reid goes from down 13 to up 4, with the Tea Party candidate taking 18% away from the Republican.

All around the country, in congressional districts that don't get the kind of national media attention one would expect from a Nevada Senate race, Republican candidates are under siege from within their own ranks. In some cases, that will result in far-right candidates getting nominated in districts too moderate for a Tea Party ideology. In others, it will result in third party challenges, in Tea Party candidates stealing votes away from the Republican nominee during the general election. In either circumstance, Democrats benefit.

The same force that has energized the Republican party will almost certainly be responsible for holding it back.

Republican Leadership Has Gone MIA
As retribution for the passage of health care reform, Senate Republicans have decided they aren't going to work passed 2:00pm. They've announced it. They've even found an obscure Senate rule that makes it binding. It sounds made up. It isn't.

It's one thing to obstruct policy. But this is obstruction without reason. Obstruction without purpose. This is not going to go over well with the public in 30 second ads.

In other news, Tea Party protesters called John Lewis a "nigger." They called Barney Frank a "faggot." They spat on Emanuel Cleaver. They tried to cut the gas line at Tom Perriello's house -- and cut his brother's line instead. They sent faxes of nooses to Jim Clyburn and Bart Stupak. They placed a coffin on Russ Carnahan's lawn. Ten Democratic members of Congress have had to get increased security.

You'd think that the Republican party would be falling all over itself to disavow these kinds of tactics. You'd think the Republican leadership would be smart enough to see how dangerous it can be to be affiliated with this kind of violence.

But they are nowhere to be found. Instead of denouncing the Tea Party, they are still trying to co-opt it.

Just because Democrats control Congress and the White House doesn't mean the Republican party is somehow impervious to public opinion. Already, a new Democracy Corps poll found that Republican favorability among independents has dropped 11 points. It's dropped 12 points on the generic congressional ballot.

If that trend continues, the conventional wisdom about November's outcome will be completely upended.

The 2010 Obama Agenda
The Democrats have put forward an ambitious agenda for 2010. New financial regulations, a major overhaul of education policy, immigration reform, and a comprehensive energy policy.

With so many issues moving forward at once, it's going to be more difficult for Republicans to demonize each piece of legislation as effectively as they were able to when health care was moving forward alone. And with each issue, the GOP faces serious potential pitfalls if they choose to obstruct and oppose.

The Republican party is going to have a very difficult time explaining their opposition to financial reform to swing voters. They are going to have an even harder time explaining their opposition to immigration reform to a Hispanic voting bloc that they already may have lost for a generation.

If they vote against education reform, they'll be voting against policies they have advocated for years -- like bringing accountability to teacher performance. If they vote against energy policy, they'll be voting against other pet policies -- like new domestic drilling and new nuclear power plants.

If Republicans vote yes on any of these bills, they hand an enormous victory to the president and the Democratic party.

But if they vote no, they hand a bruising set of liabilities to themselves.

We don't know exactly how things will shape up seven months from now, but we do know this: The Democratic party has seen rock bottom. January and February were rock bottom. From here on out, almost everything facing Democrats is upside.

Now as they march toward November, they do so with momentum at their back, the kind that can only come from a genuinely big win.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Feb 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Beyond the usual economic and policy risks that most financial analysts worry about, a number of potentially seismic white swans are visible on the horizon this year. Any of them could trigger severe economic, financial, political, and geopolitical disturbances unlike anything since the 2008 crisis."
Feb 18th 2020
Extract: "In late 2019, Zogby Research Services (ZRS) once again had the opportunity to poll public opinion across the Middle East and North Africa about many of these issues that are of such critical concern to the region and its peoples..............One of the more intriguing results in our 2019 survey were the changes in Arab views toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Arabs still blame the US and Israel for the absence of peace and have little confidence that the conflict can be resolved in the near future. Maybe as a result of this despair, this issue now ranks low as an Arab priority. Also noteworthy is the fact that majorities in most Arab countries now say that normalization with Israel, which they acknowledge is already happening, may be a good thing. This development shouldn’t be overstated, however, since there is still no love for Israel. It appears, from our survey, to be born of frustration, weariness with Palestinians being victims of war, and the possibility that normalization might bring some economic benefits and could give Arabs leverage to press Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians."
Feb 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Global dissatisfaction with democracy has increased over the past 25 years, according to our recent report. Drawing upon the HUMAN Surveys project, the report covered 154 countries, with 77 countries covered continuously for the period from 1995 to 2020. These samples were possible thanks to the combination of data from over 25 sources, 3,500 national surveys, and 4 million respondents. Not surprisingly, the gloomy headline finding – rising democratic dissatisfaction – attracted the most attention. Less widely discussed, however, is the “good news” – that a small sample of countries has bucked the trend, and have record high levels of satisfaction with their democracies."
Feb 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "This is how dictatorships begin. As the US prepares for its next presidential election in November, it is every citizen’s responsibility rationally to examine Trump’s dictatorial impulses, which reelection would only reinforce. It is not safe to assume that he won’t go too far, or that he is too much of a “mediocrity” – as Leon Trotsky called Stalin (an assessment with which many Bolsheviks agreed) – to transform his country......Vladimir Lenin, himself a ruthless Bolshevik, wrote in 1922 that, “Stalin concentrated in his hands enormous power, which he won’t be able to use responsibly,” owing to traits like rudeness, intolerance, and capriciousness. Trump has all of them in spades. The more power he concentrates in his own hands, the dimmer the long-term outlook for American democracy becomes. His reelection could mean lights out."
Feb 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Does this mean that the dream of European unity is over? Does the exodus of a member state obliterate the vision of Victor Hugo and Václav Havel? Does Europe now fit the description of what the great American president Abraham Lincoln called a house divided against itself? Not necessarily. History is more imaginative than we are. The EU still has the option of keeping Britain close in heart and mind. We can still benefit from our absent partner, by resurrecting the partnership through our actions."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "There, no formal change from a republican system to an autocratic system ever occurred. Rather, there was an erosion of the republican institutions, a steady creep over decades of authoritarian decision-making, and the consolidation of power within one individual – all with the name “Republic” preserved.........Will the GOP-led Senate’s endorsement of this defense clear a path for more of the manifestations – and consequences – of authoritarianism? The case of the Roman Republic’s rapid slippage into an autocratic regime masquerading as a republic shows how easily that transformation can occur."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "So all that is why Cramer is talking about the death knell of petroleum stocks. We probably agree on almost nothing else, but when people are right, you have to give them credit. He is right."
Feb 3rd 2020
EXTRACT: " the citizens of the remaining 27 states have observed the destabilising impact that the referendum decision has had on British politics, they have been inoculated against the desire to secede from the EU. Outside the UK, national-populist parties have moderated their anti-EU rhetoric and nowadays profess to want to change the EU from within instead of destroying it."
Feb 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Senators will soon decide whether to dismiss the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump without hearing any witnesses. In making this decision, I believe they should consider words spoken at the Constitutional Convention, when the Founders decided that an impeachment process was needed to provide a “regular examination,” to quote Benjamin Franklin. A critical debate took place on July 20, 1787, which resulted in adding the impeachment clause to the U.S. Constitution. Franklin, the oldest and probably wisest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, said that when the president falls under suspicion, a “regular and peaceable inquiry” is needed."
Feb 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Britain will be celebrating its glorious independence from the complications of international cooperation at a time when the intellectual, political, and economic hostility between China’s communist leadership and liberal democracies is becoming ever clearer. If liberal democracy is to survive, it must stand up for itself. And we should be under no illusion: open societies under the rule of law, from the Americas to Europe, Africa, and Asia, are in China’s hostile sights. The West should not aim to encircle or pen in China. But liberal democracies cannot allow it to distort international norms in its own favor."
Jan 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Switzerland and Denmark have gone furthest into negative territory, both offering unprecedentedly low rates of -0.75%. The Swiss National Bank, which has kept its rate at this level since 2015, signalled recently that it intends to stick with this experiment and is not ruling out going even more negative. It has said that negative rates were boosting the economy and that the country’s fundamentals were not being significantly affected."
Jan 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "Electricity will dominate the future global energy system. Currently, it accounts for only 20% of final energy demand,......Without assuming any fundamental technological breakthroughs, we could certainly build by 2050 a global economy in which electricity met 65-70% of final energy demand,....."
Jan 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "With the world economy operating dangerously close to stall speed, the confluence of ever-present shocks and a sharply diminished trade cushion raises serious questions about financial markets’ increasingly optimistic view of global economic prospects."
Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Gibson’s diagnosis is supported by international attitude surveys. One found that most Americans rarely think about the future and only a few think about the distant future. When they are forced to think about it, they don’t like what they see. Another poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of Americans were pessimistic about what lies ahead. But pessimism about the future isn’t just limited to the US. One international poll of over 400,000 people from 26 countries found that people in developed countries tended to think that the lives of today’s children will be worse than their own. And a 2015 international survey by YouGov found that people in developed countries were particularly pessimistic. For instance, only 4% of people in Britain thought things were improving. This contrasted with 41% of Chinese people who thought things were getting better."
Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."