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Monday, November 17, 2014
Politics ...

I haven’t yet said anything about the mid-term national elections two weeks ago, but I will now break my silence. I wanted to “let the dust settle”, see what the pundits had to say about it. Well, as usual, the pundits have said a whole lot of different things. Most everyone agreed that the results were not good for the Democratic Party as a whole, and for President Obama’s chances of accomplishing anything over the next two years that would enhance his legacy. There was, however, a lot of disagreement as to just how bad it all was and what the implications are for the upcoming 2016 Presidential election. I’m now going to throw in my two cents on all of this.

First off, I don’t see the election results as the sign of a “new Republican wave”, the start of an era of GOP domination of national politics akin to what occurred between 1968 (end of LBJ, start of Richard Nixon) and 1992 (end of George HW Bush and start of Bill Clinton). I think that we are still in a ping-pong era where neither party has a decisive edge (although it does seem clear that the Democrats do better in Presidential elections and the GOP has an edge in mid-terms). The voting public right now is kind-of fickle and up-for-grabs. The Democrat’s supposed “demographic destiny” propounded by Ruy Teixeira and others still seems rather tenuous and theoretical. When voter turnout hardly every breaks 60%, it still matters a lot just who possesses the most inspiration to actually take the hour or less that is required for most people to cast a vote in November (hardly 15 minutes for me, door-to-door). Most elections are determined “at the margin”, i.e. a swing of perhaps 5% of voters or less usually determines who the victor will be.

So, what were the inspirations that swung the critical 5% or so of voters on the 4th against the Democratic senatorial candidates in the key states (i.e., North Carolina, Georgia, Alaska, Iowa and arguably Kansas with an independent-candidate footnote)? The best analysis I read was from Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner. Mr. Barone feels that the die was cast against the Democrats about one year ago, in the “botched” roll-out of the HealthCare.gov web site (which took place in October 2013). I put brackets around the word botched, as I myself didn’t consider what transpired to be all that disastrous. Computer systems are complex, Obamacare is complex, and the organizational set-up that processes buyers on the national health care exchange is extremely complex. NASA didn’t get to the moon in the 1960’s without some mishaps, including one that took the lives of three astronauts. No one died because of the initial glitches on HealthCare.gov, and I believe that everyone that needed coverage was able to buy it within six weeks.

However, the American public did not seem as generous as me. Barone points out that in October 2013, Obama’s approval ratings were rising as public opinion turned against the GOP for the October government shut-down caused by the unwillingness of Republican members of the House to pass a budget (they were holding out to defund Obamacare, of course). Poll results regarding which party’s candidate was favored in the next House elections reached a 6 percent Democratic advantage. The tide seemed to be turning in the Democrat’s favor.

HealthCare.gov was getting on its feet just as the shutdown occurred in early October, but once the GOP capitulated and passed an interim funding bill to keep the lights on in federal offices, more and more stories about frustrated attempts to use the site hit the press. The temporary revival of Obama’s numbers soon reversed itself, and began a descent from 45% approval in late October to around 40% by early December (using the poll average from the Real Clear Politics site). The President made a slight comeback in early 2014, reaching 44% briefly in May; but that number declined once again and has languished around 41% since late June. These three or four point swings don’t seem like much; but once again, elections are often decided by marginal voting blocks of less than 5% of the electorate.

Most of the Democratic Senatorial and House candidates tried to firewall themselves from Obama, but it didn’t work. The “marginal voters” were obviously angry about Obamacare and weren’t going to let Democratic legislators off the hook, given the prominent role they played in making the Affordable Health Care Act a fact. The marginal “purple state” voters seemed wary early on of a new and unfamiliar federal intrusion into their lives, despite the many problems with private health care availability and cost (the things that inspired the AHCA). Their suspicions were then flamed into hostility by the perceived incompetence of an arrogant, disrespectful federal government.

Yes, the truth is that many more people have been helped by Obamacare than were inconvenienced by the temporarily unreliable web site (or by the required changes to coverage that increased some insurance bills, restricted which doctors could be used, etc.). Perhaps many of those who were helped are part of Teixeira’s pro-Democratic “new demographic”. But people who become satisfied just don’t have the same inspiration to turn out and vote in an off-year as those who are aggrieved. And once again, you only need perhaps 3 or 4 percent of the voting population to turn the tide. I would not be surprised if most of this aggrieved 3 or 4 percent did not themselves experience problems with their health care coverage because of Obamacare. But the popularity of talk radio seems to fan passions and triggers imagined grievances vicariously.

The take-away from this appears to be that 2016 is NOT a shoe-in for the next Democratic Presidential candidate (Hillary Clinton, presumably; the Democratic bench is mostly empty these days, and fielding an Elizabeth Warren after the 2014 losses would appear to be a Kamikaze mission, a replay of George McGovern 1972). The Republicans of course are at a disadvantage for having the polar opposite situation from the Democrats regarding potential players. The 2016 GOP primary season looks like it will be a replay of the 2012 circus, which weighed heavily on (if not crippled) Mitt Romney’s bid to unseat Obama.

The nightmare scenario for Hillary and the Democrats is, of course, Jeb Bush. Hillary will no doubt try to distance herself from Obama, but the 2014 mid-term results indicate that the “marginal swing” faction will not let her do so. Of course, Mr. Bush also has his ties to a disgraced Presidency, that of his brother. But George W. Bush has become something of a quaint memory now, and I think that a lot of swing voters will be willing to listen to the “new Bush”. Jeb has the advantage of not looking much like W, and not talking or acting much like him either. The Dems would obviously try to hang W’s legacy on him, but I don’t feel that it will stick.

On the flip side of that, the Dems will also try to equate Hillary with Bill Clinton. But I’m not sure that rationale will stick either. Since 2009, Hillary has been “Obama-cized”. Even before that, as a “modern woman” seeking her own way in politics, she was never very “Bill-icized”. It may be a stretch now for her to try to access the good vibes that still ripple across the heartland about Bill Clinton. Bill never lost the Arkansas in him; but Hilary clearly comes across as mostly New York and Washington.

Still, I don’t think that it’s too late for the Democrats to get their groove back for 2016. The biggest thing that Obama can do for the Democrats in 2016 is to make Obamacare work. And yes, that won’t be easy with a hostile legislative branch and a possibly hostile judicial branch. But if he gets another break from the Supreme Court and fends off the various attacks coming from Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, he can push his administration to do a full-court press on health care. (And while fixing Obamacare, also fix Veterans Administration care).

As far as using his administrative resources to promote immigration reform (and I’m doubtful that the GOP Congress will come up with anything reasonable in that arena) – well, morally it is the right thing to do. And it would obviously help to solidify the Hispanic component of the “new demography”. But I honestly don’t think that this is the ticket to keeping a Democrat in the White House past January 19, 2017. I don’t feel that the Democrats have much to lose by stalling for time on immigration and posting the blame on a do-nothing Republican Congress. And as to global warming issues — again, they are the right thing to work on, but it’s the wrong time to do it. Let the XL pipeline go, throttle back on new EPA initiatives, let the economy grow — and Hillary can then deal with the long-term issues in 2017, hopefully with some real political capital in her pockets.

One slight glimmer of hope regarding Obamacare – some recent polls on public approval levels have shown the negative rankings to be declining and the positive impressions to be gaining, however slightly. Hopefully it will occur to more and more voters that Obamacare really is helping a lot of people. Another possible positive sign is that unemployment levels have come down below 6% over the past few months, and monthly net job creation numbers have stayed above 200,000. The one thing that has not yet responded to a (hopefully) recovering economy is wage growth. Some economists feel, however, that wage growth may finally come around, as the job markets tighten in the coming months.

These are the two areas where Obama could do the most to keep Hillary and the Dems in play in 2016. President Obama needs to do whatever he can with the time and resources that he has left to keep the economy growing and make Obamacare work as intended, if he hopes to be remembered as “not only the first African American President, but the male President who paved the way for the first female Presidency”. If he could somehow pull that off, then his place in the history books of tomorrow will be spacious and secure, despite all the disappointments along the way.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:46 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, As with the rest of the world, I guess I too did not get myself too worked up about the political picture, although my state had a gubernatorial election which seemed quite important to me. I did vote; so I did not avoid the issue by not voting.

    I must say that I was disappointed that the Dems did not have a better showing. Our democratic governor got thrown out and we now have a GOP one––or will have one come, I think, January. But I couldn’t help myself from asking how long it will take before this new one gets thrown in jail; so many of our governors have been in jail; one still is.

    What we could be sure of was that the Democratic governor who has been summarily thrown out of office in this state would not ever be one to go to jail. He’s been a straight up, for social justice governor. Our new one is a billionaire. What more is there to say? That’s about all I know about him—and that he’s been known to send thousands of jobs overseas. Not a good start as far as I’m concerned. But I guess we can live thru what we have to live thru.

    When it comes to what will happen next year and who will run for president, I can’t find it in myself to even start to think about it. In some ways all the thrill of having Hillary run for office has gone, and I wonder what kind of president she might make. I liked her as a Secretary of State; so she may do well as a president.

    But then who will run for the GOP? And the first thing that comes to my mind is a prayer: God, please save us from a Bush dynasty. Please no Jeb Bush. If to do without Jeb Bush, I’d have to give up Hillary, I’d willing give her up; that’s how strongly I find myself feeling about the prospect of another Bush in office as president.

    As to the possibility of who might run instead of these two in their respective parties, I have no clue. So, at this point I’m in a waiting position: Waiting to see who actually will run and then making my decision about voting.

    At this point it seems everything’s been said about Hillary the last time she did not get to run—–or was in the primaries was it? and didn’t make it through. How soon we forget. Do we really have to redo that whole thing again? And Jeb Bush being a “different kind of Bush” or not, I have no wish to think in terms of another Bush in the White House.

    Thus, at this point I’d rather avoid the issue of politics and let the candidates decide who will run. Then I’ll decide my vote. That’s about all I care about this next election. Maybe this is how a lot of other people feel too; then again, maybe it’s just me. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — November 17, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

  2. Jim, Thanks for the post? A few comments…

    I agree that this election will not be a predictor for what will happen in 2016. Recall how the GOP picked up 64 House seats in 2010, only to lose two years later. I think the Dems remain a favorite to win in 2016, but of course, lots can and will happen in the next two years that will reshape the election. I think the Dems list partially because while the GOP said “we aint Obama” and the Dems responded “we ain’t either”. Why vote for the Dems in that situation? In the meantime, the GOP continues to receive much less favorability ratings than the Dema.

    Hillary is a very strong favorite for the Dem nomination. Elizabeth Warren is the only Dem I see who could beat her. Comparing Warren to McGovern seems foolish to me for many reasons: The GOP won’t nominate a moderate like Nixon in 2016. The voting population is now much less white, and minorities are more likely to vote Democratic now than in 1972. On political issues, the income distributions seems like a more important issue now than it once was. I could go on…

    I have no idea who the GOP will nominate. I think lots of Republicans have a realistic path to the nomination including Bush, Romney, Paul, Walker and Christie.

    I disagree with your comments on Obamacare – which continues to grow in popularity, and it is now receiving credit for stablizing healthcare costs and significantly reducing the number of uninsured. Ironically, the election was not about Obamacare; it was about things such as ISIL and ebola.

    Ps – Consider writing shorter posts . You made a lot of a different and somewhat unrelated points, and so my response probably lacked the depth that you would prefer.

    Comment by Zreebs — November 18, 2014 @ 8:06 am

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