As Democrats lost a special election in Florida because of the unpopularity of President Obama, the CIA under his administration is accused of spying on the Intelligence Committee of a Democratic Senate, and a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds disapproval of the president among Democrats rising to 20 percent, The Washington Post headlines, incredibly, “Obama sounds midterm alarms for Democrats.”
Mr. President, Democrats are alarmed. About you.
For example, with Florida Democrat Alex Sink being hurt by ObamaCare’s unpopularity; it was thoughtless and politically inept for Obama to spend three important days before the special election being visible on local news vacationing in Florida.
There are three domestic political requirements for any president. The first is running a presidential campaign. Obama excels at this and has brilliantly executed raising big money and launching negative attacks against a single opponent.
The second is working with Congress. Obama has failed on this front. He assumed office lacking relationships that are essential to governing, yet has refused to invest the time to build these relationships with congressional Democrats or Republicans.
The third requirement is creating a program, shaping a narrative and exciting the base to win midterm elections to enact that program. In 2010, Obama surrendered the national narrative to the Tea Party, while his staff insulted the Democratic base with condescending pejoratives such as “the professional left,” often for supporting policies he claimed to support, including the public option.
The president has described himself as a “Rorschach” inducing divergent voters to project their views onto him. This works well in presidential elections. But it is disastrous in midterm elections. The effect angers and energizes Republican voters while anesthetizing and depressing many Democratic voters, who then stay home for midterms.
The original sin of Obama-style governing is that he never even tried to close the so-called revolving door or change the way Washington works, as he had promised. Many Democrats outside of Washington believe it is obscene when some of his former staff, including ex-White House aide Jim Messina, hustle business deals ferociously, often from sources real Democrats consider unsavory.
Democrats need Robert Kennedys, not Karl Roves. With Kennedy, it was all hands on deck; under Obama, it is many hands in the till. When the candidate of hope and change becomes the president of revolving-door profiteering from special-interest greed, Democratic turnout suffers.
Obama appears to pride himself on lacking deep philosophical convictions, but it is these convictions, as well as bold programs to advance them and powerful mobilizations to enact them, that are the seed corn for midterm campaigns.
The danger for Democrats is that the core of Obama’s style may be the curse on Democrats’ midterm chances.
Obama and the Clintons should make it clear they don’t want consultant-driven super-PACs, such as Ready for Hillary and Priorities USA to siphon money from 2014 Democratic candidates. It is political suicide to hoard money for Clinton in 2016 with grave danger facing Democrats under heavy attack in 2014 from the Koch brothers and other super wealthy rightists.
Instead of golfing with sports celebrities in Key Largo during foreign crises, Obama should mobilize them to market ObamaCare to young people to help Democrats facing a political healthcare crisis.
Obama should cut back aggressive deportations, which are poison with Hispanic voters, and wage all-out battles for a dramatic jobs bill, for jobless benefits, for raising the minimum wage and for immigration reform — even if this means calling a perpetually vacationing Congress back into session.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.