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A Wasted Opportunity For Democrats

Memo Pad Politics

A Wasted Opportunity For Democrats


The midterm elections are almost all over but the voting, and once again Republicans have convinced much of the country that we are in terrible shape. Democratic House and Senate candidates have not exactly trumpeted their party’s president or achievements from the rooftops. Is it any wonder that voters aren’t impressed either?

The pall that hangs over this election is misguided in many ways. The unemployment rate is 5.9 percent, a six-year low. Employers have added more than 10 million jobs in the last few years. The stock market has tripled since President Obama took office. For those who worry about government spending, the deficit has plunged to a projected $486 billion or 2.8 percent of the U.S. economy, down from $1.4 trillion and 9.8 percent in 2009 in the depths of the Great Recession. For those who claim we are in danger of becoming Europe (God forbid), the Eurozone unemployment rate is nearly twice as high as ours, while its projected economic growth rate is about one-third of ours.

For all of that, we are mired in midterm malaise over the rise of the Islamic State, the spread of Ebola in West Africa, and the gridlock that has paralyzed Washington. Republicans, assisted by an occasional Obama misstep and the passive cooperation of other Democrats, have managed to spin all the dross into reasons to vote for them — and given recent history, how galling is that?

Democrats are rightly hammering Republicans for blocking progress on a minimum-wage hike and equal pay for women, and that is helping some candidates stay viable to the end. But why aren’t they also talking up the positive side of the equation — what they and their president have gotten done in spite of GOP obstructionism?

Where are the feel-good saturation national ads about people with jobs in renewable energy, seeing doctors for the first time or protected from ruinous financial transactions? People who have a shot at the American Dream because of Obama policies on gay rights, young immigrants, and the auto industry? Where is the ad contrasting today’s economy to the terrifying situation Obama inherited? Where are the millionaires and billionaires who, rather than pushing specific causes such as climate change and gun control, are making the most effective case for their side to win?

Even in the absence of all that, and the six-year Republican campaign against Obama, some indicators suggest a growing optimism. “Americans remain more confident in the U.S. economy than they have been since August 2013,” Gallup reported this week. In its poll of 3,535 adults, 42 percent said the economy was getting better.

Only 28 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll felt that way, a disparity that could be explained by the intensely political context of that poll. The economy question was No. 22, following a long series of questions about Obama, Congress, the midterms and trust in Washington.

If there’s a gap between reality and perception, it’s at least partly because Democrats have thrown their record under the bus. That’s been a hallmark of the Obama era, to gloss over successful economic and social policies and run from Obama himself. He has hardly campaigned anywhere with anyone this year, and his itinerary in the final days is a roll call of states he won in 2012 by margins ranging from 5.4 to 27.5 percentage points: Wisconsin, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Obama still knows how to frame an election and rouse a crowd, as he demonstrated at a Milwaukee rally for Mary Burke, the Democrat trying to oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker and head off his likely presidential candidacy. The president compared Republicans to family members with bad ideas that they keep trying even though the ideas keep failing. “They’re still part of the family, but you don’t want to put them in charge, right?” he asked, and then launched into a robust defense of his record and agenda.

But there has been no echo chamber for Obama, as veteran Democratic communications expert Robert Weiner has been pointing out in plaintive emails and radio interviews. “His presidency has been Rooseveltian, but the Republicans would have you believe the guy is inept,” Weiner, a former White House and Capitol Hill spokesman, said this month on the labor-oriented Rick Smith Show in central Pennsylvania. “The silence is deafening from our side.”

Rooseveltian or not, the whole depressing season has illustrated a key difference between Republicans and Democrats. The former define a political environment. The latter surrender to it and try to find workarounds. This year, one of those workarounds has been to cut the president loose. We will see in a few days if that was the right political move, or if they might have been better off leaning in to him, their party and what it has accomplished against great odds.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo: President Obama and Mary Burke appear Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, at North Division High School in Milwaukee. Burke, a Democrat and former Trek Bicycle Corp. executive, is running against Republican Gov. Scott Walker. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT)

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Jill Lawrence

Award-winning journalist Jill Lawrence is a nationally syndicated columnist and a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report. She also contributed to The Surge: 2014's Big GOP Win and What It Means for the Next Presidential Race (2015). Lawrence has discussed political and policy developments on television, radio, and many other media outlets. She was an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University in 2014, teaching on the relationship between politics and the media.

Lawrence has covered every presidential campaign since 1988, as well as historic events such as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, the Clinton impeachment, the Florida recount, and the 1993 and 2009 battles over health reform.

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  1. Dominick Vila October 30, 2014

    Make no mistake, if a Republican president had a record one tenth as successful as President Obama’s the GOP would be building a pedestal to worship his statue. Unfortunately, from a political perspective, President Obama spends most of his time governing, and relies on the intelligence and judgment of the American people to discern the difference between the reality of our current circumstances and the domestic and foreign policy disasters that existed when he was first inaugurated in January 2009. It remains to be seen whether or not that confidence translates into reality.
    From a stimulus package that helped prevent the imminent collapse of the U.S. economy, announced in 2008 by former President Bush, to contributing to an all time 10,000 point record increase in the DOW, reducing the Federal government deficit by 2/3, reducing unemployment to 5.9% (almost full employment), solid consumer confidence and the resulting spending, corporations posting record profits and hiring, bankruptcies and foreclosures back to normal levels, greater oversight of Wall Street evident in a dramatic reduction in bank fraud, ending the unfunded crusades and the slaughter they caused, restoring our international credibility, making preventive medical care available to everyone (over 10 million people in spite of RED states rejecting the MEDICAID expansion), a GDP that is second to none, and championing causes such as equality, gay rights, raising the minimum wage and so many others, you would think the Democrats would have been campaigning on the contrast between what we left behind and the prosperity we are enjoying today. Instead, our politicians and party strategists have allowed the opposition to convince gullible voters that prosperity is evil socialist malaise, that raising the minimum wage is economic suicide, that the jobs that have been created are substandard…until their candidates decide to use them to deflect attention from their dismal records, and we go as far as asking the man responsible for us avoiding the de facto collapse of capitalism and ending adventurism to stay away for fear that he may turn to be a liability. If the GOP gets control of the Senate it will not be because of our record, it will be because of our failure to articulate the benefits of our successes, and allow an inept opposition with one of the worst records in history and a vision that is limited to demonizing achievers, that convince mainstream Americans that something evil is happening and that they must vote RED to take America back to an unspecified era. Are they talking about 2008? The pre-Civil Rights days? The pre-Civil War days? Or just the days when everybody knew their place, including who was expected to seat at the back of the bus, which water fountain to drink from, and which cafeterias would serve those who don’t look or sound like the majority a milk shake?

    1. highpckts October 30, 2014

      Well if the Dems are relying on the intelligence of their party to see what’s in front of them, then we might be in trouble! I just don’t have any faith in the ignorant or too busy public!!!

      1. Dominick Vila October 30, 2014

        Neither do I.

  2. VoiceofReason613 October 30, 2014

    Excellent article.

    To reinforce it, please consider the following arguments that can put the Republicans on the defensive:

    Democrats can indeed still win if they finally start stressing arguments like the following:

· The Tea Party has shifted the Republican Party so far to the right that Eisenhower, Nixon, and even Reagan would not recognize it or get nominated by 
it today.

· Republicans are promoting policies similar to orworse than those that had such disastrous results during the George W.Bush administration, including converting a three-year major surplus intoa major deficit, creating very few jobs,
and leaving the country on the brinkof a depression, with over 750,000 jobs being lost per month when they left office.

· Republicans have obstructed efforts to get ourcountry out of the ditch they left us in by consistently voting no on and filibustering many Democratic proposals to
 improve the economy, some of which they previously supported.

· Republicans support continued tax breaks for major corporations and the
wealthiest Americans, while cutting basic social services.

    · Republicans
are in denial about the dangers from climate
    change, despite the views of
almost all climate scientists and the many wake-up calls we have already received in terms of severe climate events. 

    · A strong majority of Republicans voted against aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy and against background checks for arms purchases.

    * Republicans support: reducing the ability of the government
    to help people, ending Medicare as we know it. restricting women’s access to health care, privatizing Social Security, and other harmful positions.

    1. idamag October 30, 2014

      Why can’t they see this?

  3. FT66 October 30, 2014

    I think the writer of this article missed the opportunity as well. This article should had been written long time ago even before the campaigns begun, so to educate people on the achievement. I would also ask the writer where can the President get a crowd to rouse in Red States, where few voted for him and many don’t want to hear his name. These are states where Dem candidates are fighting for their survival.

  4. idamag October 30, 2014

    Money corrupts and big money makes big corruption. I am so disappointed in the Democrats and thoroughly disgusted with the lying Republicans.

  5. highpckts October 30, 2014

    Where is our backbone?? Why are the powers that be not stepping up and calling out these lying Republicans?? So disappointing. They should have been fighting fire with fire all along!

  6. Irishgrammy October 30, 2014

    I could not agree more with this article… as if I had written it myself. It has been a major complaint of mine for quite a while, especially when it became abundantly clear what McConnell and the GOPTP were doing from 1/20/09 onward!!! I have called it National Mental Abuse by a political party with NO ideas and major hate driven “issues”……, the one thing the Republicans are really good at, “staying on message” no matter how contemptible that message is, along with lying on epic proportions! It has been a relentless attack mechanism of the absurdly ridiculous to deliberate calculated dishonesty along with unrelenting refusal to govern with this President, with any iota of cooperation and only a fanatical, all consuming rabid mission to destroy. Most people in this country have not paid attention to what has gone on for the past 6 years, they only get dribs and drabs, and if they listen to only Fox they get misinformed constantly along with hyperbolic untruths, and that’s all the GOPTP needs in their mission to misinform the “low information”, “don’t want to bother”, voters, along with, throw in a lot of fear mongering and a dash of racism, and blame, blame, blame and there’s the game plan for the GOPTP, this pathetic political party that has devolved into a national embarrassment. But the Democrats, jeeze, just lay down and play dead, no fighting back with facts and numbers that are on your side, or how about just standing up and decrying the blatant racism and bigotry, overt and veiled for God’s sake…………FDR, Teddy Kennedy are rolling in their graves……there’s a reason Elizabeth Warren is gaining in such popularity, SHE IS FIGHTING BACK, not only intellectually, emotionally and articulately, but with information that can and has been proven right, the rest of the Democrats should watch and learn….

    1. latebloomingrandma November 1, 2014

      Amen! I am really tired of Democrats who are running from Obama. It’s just cowardice. There could be great political ads reminding the electorate of where we were in 2008 and where we are now, in spite of Republican obstructionism. There is no good reason to let the party of no ideas to define the Democratic party and agenda , and even democracy, with their skewed rhetoric and outright lies.

  7. tranz2deep October 30, 2014

    The problem is democratic lack of cohesion. With Republicans turning lockstep mentality into a trademark, there’s a distinct tendency for Dems to simply not hang together–and, all too frequently, that hang separately as a result.
    Party unity has successfully been equated with obstructionism by the Republicans, and that’s very, very deliberate.

    1. Whatmeworry October 30, 2014

      what would be their rally cry?? More Debt, more wars, more wasteful spending, more illegal immigrants??

  8. atlanticxing35k October 30, 2014

    The Democrats have elevated spinelessness to an art form. It’s not pretty.

    1. Whatmeworry October 30, 2014

      Same with ineptitude

    2. Whatmeworry October 30, 2014

      Same with eptitude

  9. Whatmeworry October 30, 2014

    Nice to cherry pick the data that makes your case. No mention of the lowest worker participation rate in 100 years at 23% which belays the so called good unemployment numbers. THe fact that net NEW jobs in this country are less than 1 million.
    Or that the Dem’s have increased the debt by $11T in just 6 years so that every new born now has a debt load of $150.000 the day they are arrive. Or that our military has never been weaker and our prominence as a world power has never been lower

    1. Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter October 30, 2014

      sooo, what’s your point?? My data says differently!

  10. Veck Torr October 31, 2014

    There’s no serious difference between today’s liberals and their socialist ancestors.


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