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Skinner ADMIN Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-03-10 12:11 PM
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That wasn't very much fun.
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The midterm elections are over, and the results are obviously not good for Democrats. There are many reasons why we lost, but I think the economy is probably the biggest.

Two years ago the economy was in free-fall and people were hurting, and they voted decisively for Barack Obama and Democrats. We've had two years to turn the economy around -- and we have made progress -- but it has not been nearly enough. Unemployment is still near 10%. Foreclosures are still at historic highs. People are still scared and uncertain.

It does not help that Wall Street -- the people who got us into this mess in the first place -- seems to be doing fine. In fact, they seem to be doing better than ever.

I am a strong supporter of President Obama, I think he has amassed an impressive record of accomplishments, and overall I think he's done a great job under very difficult circumstances. But I don't think he is particularly good at tapping into people's anger, or understanding their feelings that they have not been treated fairly. This might not have been such a problem if it weren't for the unique circumstances of this economic crisis.

It is no secret that the bank bailouts were deeply unpopular. As everyone here on DU knows, the bailouts actually occurred on Bush's watch. But Obama supported them, and so he's had to own them. Personally, I think the bank bailouts -- however distasteful -- were necessary. I think we could not risk the complete collapse of the global economy, which was a very real possibility. But whether they were necessary or not, the bottom line is that it just doesn't seem fair that big banks had their bad behavior rewarded with a massive government handout, while regular people got very little. People are very sensitive to perceived unfairness.

President Obama can say that he averted another Great Depression, he can say that millions of people have jobs now that probably wouldn't if the banks had been allowed to fail, and he would probably be right. But I don't think that argument resonates particularly well. If someone has the exact same job they had two years ago, I don't think they are very likely to give the President credit for that. They don't see any noticeable improvement in their situation. All they see is that they are in the exact same spot they were two years ago.

In hindsight, I think we might not have done so badly in this election if President Obama and the Democrats had done more to improve the economy for regular Americans. Paul Krugman of the New York Times has argued that the economic stimulus package should have been much, much larger, and I think he's probably right. A larger stimulus might have given the economy a kick-start, and if it were heavily aimed at middle class Americans, it might have gone a long way toward addressing the feeling that the system unfairly benefits the wealthy and powerful over regular people. What I'm not so sure of is whether President Obama could bring himself to demagogue the Main Street/Wall Street divide. It's clear he sees himself as a consensus builder, and driving a wedge like that seems out of character.

All the other issues -- health care, deficits, or whatever -- seem secondary to me. It's true that people don't like the health care bill (or their perception of it) and people don't like deficits. But I don't think any of those issues would have had much traction if the economy had been better.

Unfortunately, now that the Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives, our chances of fixing the economy, or doing anything that helps regular people, are greatly diminished. There is a chance that the economy might get better on its own, and at this point that may be the best we can hope for. President Obama is now faced with a choice: He could try to work with Republicans in a bipartisan way to pass legislation and actually accomplish some things during the next two years; or he could boldly advocate for legislation that he knows will never pass the House in an effort to cast them as obstructionists. Politically, I think the latter approach would probably be more effective (and would be much more popular here on DU). But I think he is more likely to do the former. He is a consensus builder and a pragmatist right down to his bones, and I suspect he would consider it irresponsible to waste two years on partisan bickering with nothing to show for it.

Oh, well. At least we have John Boehner and the Republicans to kick around for a while. I'm really looking forward to sticking a boot in their ass, repeatedly, over the next two years. It'll be refreshing to see people on DU going after Republicans a little more often, instead of constantly attacking President Obama. Or each other.
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