Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Sky Is Falling!

Do you recall the fable of Chicken Little?

As I understand it, there are several versions of that particular fable, and the moral varies from version to version.

But, in the version I remember from my childhood, a falling acorn strikes a chicken in the head, and she concludes that the sky is falling. She decides she must give this information to the king so she embarks on a journey to do precisely that. Along the way, she runs into several other animals, and she tells them what has happened. They decide to come with her.

At some point, they encounter a fox, who eats most of the chicken's friends.

Essentially, the moral of the story is to have courage and not give in to hysteria.

For Democrats, in a celebratory mood after passing health care reform on Sunday and sending it to the White House, where Barack Obama signed it into law today, this may seem like a strange time for talk of an imminent disaster.

But nonpartisan political analyst Stuart Rothenberg isn't trying to lure Democrats into a trap in his piece at The Rothenberg Political Report, where he asserts that "[f]or Democrats, the sky is falling."

He's actually trying to give them the early warning that many insisted — all evidence to the contrary — that they got from January's special election in Massachusetts.

Citing the results of a couple of recent polls, Rothenberg writes, "Both found far more Americans believing the country was headed off on the wrong track ... than in the right direction, and both found the once strong Democratic advantage in the generic ballot, which measures how people plan to vote in November ... or which party they would like to control Congress after the next election ... has narrowed or disappeared."

But wait. There's more.

"Even worse for Democrats," he writes, by a two–to–one margin, "Americans now say it is better to have different parties controlling Congress and the presidency rather than to have one party controlling both branches."

Doesn't sound promising. What about the familiar old fallback positions upon which Democrats have relied?

"[T]he Republican brand still stinks," Rothenberg writes. "Voters aren't clamoring for Republicans to run anything in Washington, D.C., and polls continue to show that Americans still think that former President George W. Bush bears more of the responsibility for the nation's economic pain than anyone else."

Is that enough? Apparently not. "Unfortunately for Democrats," Rothenberg observes, "their own brand has fallen like a rock."

What about blaming Bush? Democrats got considerable mileage from that in 2009, didn't they?

Well, "he won't be on the ballot or in the public's consciousness in November," Rothenberg writes, "so Democrats will have to spend a great deal of time (and money) trying to make the midterms a referendum on the former president rather than on the sitting president. The chances that most Democratic candidates will succeed in that effort are exceedingly small."

Well, doesn't the passage of health care reform count for anything?

"Health care reform, once seen as a party strength, has turned into a significant liability," Rothenberg writes, "and few think the economy will turn around far enough or fast enough to help Democratic candidates in the midterm elections."

Rothenberg admits that he has been reluctant "to get too far in front of the election cycle, since circumstances can change and Democrats could well have an important financial advantage in the key post–Labor Day time period. But let's be clear about what is developing: Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership have dug themselves into a deep and dangerous political hole, and the only question right now seems to be the severity of the drubbing."

Does that mean a change in party control of either chamber of Congress — like what happened in 1994 — is possible?

"As one smart Democratic strategist told me recently," Rothenberg says, " 'All of the elements are in place for a disaster like 1994. But it could be even worse.' "

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