Sunday, August 22, 2010

Future Shock

Did you ever see the original film version of "Carrie," the one starring Sissy Spacek?

If you did, you could never forget the ending. Amy Irving, whose character was the sole survivor of the bloody prom night, has a peaceful, reverent dream in which she takes flowers to the land where Carrie's house once stood. As she is placing the flowers beneath a For Sale sign on the property, a bloody hand reaches up through the rubble and grabs her wrist. She wakes from the dream screaming hysterically.

The calm has been shattered. The facade is in ruins.

Isn't that a great analogy for the human experience?

It's an analogy the Democrats might want to think about after the votes have been counted in November. Because it seems likely to be their experience.

Thinking about it back in the spring, or the winter — or, preferably, a year ago — would have been better. It might have mitigated the damage. But, at this point, thinking about what might have been only squanders what little time remains.

Just like Amy Irving's character, they seem more than willing to march directly into a disaster zone (Danger, Will Robinson), intentionally oblivious to the threat — and, what is worse, unwilling to learn anything from it. They're like the guy who has a terrible toothache but ignores the pain, hoping it will go away — which, of course, it never does.

But, unfortunately, in this case, the toothache is only a symptom of a much more serious affliction. You see it every day in individuals — the inclination to blame others for their own failures. Sometimes, that is legitimate. Most of the time, it is not.

When Barack Obama won the presidency and Democrats built huge congressional majorities in 2008, they seemed to understand the terrible economic pain being inflicted on Americans. Job losses continued to mount during the presidential transition — so much so that, only a couple of weeks after the election, Gail Collins of the New York Times suggested that Bush should resign and let Democrats take over early, immediately implementing the clear will of the people.

That kind of thinking — tongue in cheek though it may have been — ignored the facts that (a) some states and districts that had been voting Republican for decades voted for Democrats in what may have been temporary electoral tantrums while others continued to vote Republican in spite of the Democratic wave sweeping the country, and (b) many of the voters who propelled the Democrats in 2008 belong to demographic groups with historically low voter participation rates and were enticed to come to the polls by Obama's charisma.

Perhaps some of those voters will participate in November, even though Obama is not on the ballot. If they don't, perhaps they will return to the polls in two years, when Obama is on the ballot. After that, my guess is that — in the absence of someone who is comparably charismatic and committed to the same agenda as Obama — their participation will decline steadily until it returns to its historic levels.

Unless those groups establish a better track record, they can't be considered likely voters, and Democratic nominees, especially those in traditionally Republican states and districts, shouldn't rely on their help.

I got the impression that Democrats saw a long–term, generational shift in political philosophy and allegiance in the election of 2008. Perhaps, when historians review the record of this administration decades from now, that is what they will see. But right now, there is no evidence of the sustained participation of greater numbers of young, black and/or progressive voters that Obama and the Democrats will need if they are to solidify their grip on power.

Personally, I felt the election of 2008 turned into a cult of personality campaign. Many of the voters who participated for what may have been the only time in their adult lives in 2008 may be drawn back to the polls in 2012 when Obama is on the ballot, but without him, the party's chances of retaining these voters are grim.

You don't have to be much of an historian to know that. But apparently some people need to have it spelled out for them — a task that is apt to be accomplished in November.

Well, at least Irving's character did have a few legitimate excuses for not seeing what was coming — nobody warned her, and it was a dream.

The Democrats of 2010, however, have been getting plenty of warnings for more than a year. They are like the people in the flatlands who can see a storm coming long before it arrives. But they don't heed the warnings.

Then, in November, the TV cameras will show Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi with those "deer in the headlights" expressions on their faces.

And, because of their neglect or arrogance or both, what is going to happen to them in November will be no dream. A nightmare, perhaps, but no dream.

They're going into it prepared to wage war — but they're fighting against the same things they fought against in the last two election campaigns — Republican policies, foreign and domestic, and the incompetent Republican administration.

It's George W. Bush's fault, they will say.

And, if history is any indicator — which it almost always is — the voters will agree with them. Poll after poll showed that the voters agreed with Ronald Reagan in 1982 when he asserted that America's economic problems were the fault of the Democrats and Reagan's predecessor, Jimmy Carter.

But those same polls also showed that voters felt it was irrelevant.

What Reagan and the Republicans didn't get was that the voters felt they had already punished Carter and the Democrats. They had given Reagan and the Republicans the opportunity they sought, but improvements were slow — too slow.

CNN's "Political Ticker" reports that Democrats are unveiling a new advertisement in their autumn arsenal (see above). It ends with a shot at Bush.

The message, which will be instantly recognizable to anyone who remembers the early 1980s, is "stay the course." It isn't phrased that way, of course. After all, the last thing 21st century Democrats want to be perceived as doing is taking a page from the playbook of the last truly successful — and now dead — Republican president.

But, in 1982, he pleaded with the voters to "stay the course," to give him and his party more time to turn things around. The voters weren't feeling terribly generous. They didn't give control of the Senate back to the Democrats, from whom they had taken majority status and given it to the Republicans.

But their anger with the Republicans in 1982 was visible in the races for House seats. America had taken 49 House seats from the Democrats and given them to the Republicans in the 1978 and 1980 elections. In 1982, they took 26 back and gave them to the Democrats.

Sounds a lot like what I expect in 2010. The evidence of the coming political tsunami is building all around them. The latest Rothenberg Political Report projections anticipate a 28–33 seat gain in the House and a 5–8 seat gain in the Senate — not quite enough to flip control of either chamber but enough to stall the Democrats for the next two years.

And it remains to be seen what kind of an effect the general campaigns will have on things.

Undoubtedly, there are some Democrats who would prefer that Obama did not come to their states or districts this fall. His approval ratings have been mostly in the 40s this year.

Nearly a year ago, Brent Budowsky wrote in The Hill that it was "showtime" for the Democrats.

Showtime has come and gone. The clock is ticking now, and time is running out.


askcherlock said...

As you know, it is not unusual for a president to have a rough go during these up-coming elections. Dems may lose the majority in the House but will probably maintain the Senate. After that as the economy takes an upward tick in the next year, Obama will regain his popularity. Voters do vote with their wallets.

David said...

Yes, they do vote with their wallets.

And my personal opinion is that the economy will NOT have an upward tick next year -- or the year after that.

At this point, I expect Obama to be a one-termer.