Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Die Is Cast

"There are no second acts in American lives."

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Barack Obama and the Democrats had better hope that F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong.

But, for that to happen, something dramatic is going to have to happen to reverse an ominous trend. The wave of self–confident delusion that Democrats rode into complete power in 2009 has been morphing into a mood of panic and pessimism. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' recent fretting about whether the Democrats could hold the House in November is merely the latest manifestation, as John Whitesides of Reuters says. This has been building steadily, if you've been watching the polls.

I know, polls aren't written in stone. They are merely snapshots of a moment in time, not binding in any way.

But the more I see, the more I am convinced that the beating the Democrats are likely to endure in November is inevitable. What remains to be seen is how wide and how deep the devastation will be, but I'm getting the feeling I got a week before Hurricane Katrina hit, when I could see a powerful storm building in the Gulf of Mexico and virtually nothing was being done.

Sure, I told myself all sorts of things about how hurricanes can (and often do) veer from the path they seem to be following. But telling yourself that a hurricane probably won't remain on a certain trajectory is a recipe for disaster. You have to do whatever you can to minimize the losses. Katrina didn't veer away. And neither, I believe, will the electoral tidal wave of tsunami proportions that appears to be headed the Democrats' way.

Whitesides cites what is perhaps the most extreme prognosis, the one from Charlie Cook. "The non–partisan Cook Political Report lists more than 70 House seats as highly competitive and predicts Republicans will pick up 30 to 40 seats in November," he writes, "putting them on the cusp of a majority."

The Rothenberg Political Report is only slightly more restrained. It reports that 30 Democratic–held House seats are absolute toss–ups, tilting slightly to the Republicans, clearly leaning Republican or seem certain to flip to the Republican side — while only four Republican–held House seats are in jeopardy.

I've been saying all along that the Democrats' Senate majority was at risk, but now it also seems that the House is in play.

The trend is clear. At the very least, it seems likely to me that what will happen in November will come as a shock to some Democrats who either can't see it coming or refuse to believe that it is coming. They believed that their party's triumphs in the last two election cycles were proof of a permanent shift in the priorities, if not the values, of the American voters. And that may have led to a certain amount of complacency.

It wouldn't be the first time in my life that electoral success made Democrats complacent. Didn't they become complacent in the early 1990s when Bill Clinton became president and they enjoyed majorities in the House and Senate that were almost identical to the ones they had when Obama took office? Didn't they become complacent in the 1970s when the anti–Nixon, anti–Watergate backlash gave them first enormous majorities in both houses of Congress and then the presidency?

In 2010, Democrats want to blame things on everyone but themselves, but I've been trying to warn them for the last 18 months. Unemployment is the greatest crisis facing America today because it undermines everything else — especially the confidence that people need to remain free, self–sufficient and independent.

Job creation has never been a priority of these Democrats, and now they're surprised that there is a backlash. Indeed, there are still those who refuse to acknowledge that there is even a risk involved.

Surveys show that Republicans are already far more energized about voting this year than the Democrats. How are the Democrats going to energize their base? "We're not as bad as the other guys were" doesn't exactly make me want to go to the polls in November. How about you?

We've had recessions in the last 100 years. We've even had a depression. But those were in different times, when six months was plenty for a jobless person to find work. It might not have been as good as the job that person had before, but most unemployed people, even those with modest educations, could find a job in six months. So, for a long time, that was a good, even humane, length of time for society to help those who were down on their luck.

It's not that way anymore. Nearly half of today's jobless have been out of work for six months or longer, an unprecedented figure. And, although things are not as bad as they were, the prospects aren't good when the number of actual jobs being created each month doesn't keep pace with the natural growth of the working–age population.

And on top of everything else the jobless have to worry about, their benefits have been cut off — again — because Congress needed to take its July Fourth break. And then there will be the late summer recess ... and the fall election campaigns.

Maybe Congress will get around to admitting that we are dealing with the consequences of the global economy and that many of the jobs that have been lost are never coming back and helping the unemployed make these occupational transitions will take longer than it used to.

Thus, our nation's lawmakers should conclude, it is essential to extend unemployment benefits. Maybe they won't reach that conclusion. But I think it's reasonable to assume that being jerked around like a yo–yo isn't what most of the unemployed had in mind when they voted for hope and change.

There is a scene in the film "Gettysburg" in which a Union general, played by Sam Elliott, prophetically tells a colleague what he thinks is about to unfold at Gettysburg, and then he says, "I've led a soldier's life, and I've never seen anything as brutally clear as this."

It is like that for me with the 2010 midterms.

I wish it were not so. I tried to tell them. They wouldn't listen.

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