If Democrats tried standing for something, maybe they wouldn’t be falling.
Author: Neil Middlemiss
1998, 2006, and 2014: what do these three years hold in common? They’re all American election years that I can remember, at least vaguely, and all featured mid-term elections in which the President’s perceived unpopularity gave the opposing party an opportunity for gains in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The party that does not occupy the Presidency usually makes gains in mid-term elections, especially if it is the President’s second term; in fact, this is a typical pattern in American politics.
This year, the Democrats enter mid-term elections with a 53-45 advantage over the Republicans, giving them control of the Senate. Since 1995, the Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives every year except for 2006-2010, and they are expected to retain control of the House again this year. As laws must be passed by both chambers, Democratic control of the Senate serves as an important balance to Republican insanity.
Nonetheless, current predictions suggest Republicans will likely gain control of the Senate on Nov. 4. In 1998, Republicans ultimately could not convince voters that Bill Clinton was too immoral for the oval office. In 2006, Bush’s handling of the War on Terror gave Democrats the opportunity they needed. In 2014, the link between the party and the President again seems to be a significant factor. Some Democrats are desperately distancing themselves from the President. Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democratic candidate in Kentucky, drew a mix of laughter, pity, and derision as she repeatedly wriggled out of answering whether or not she voted for Obama in the 2012 Presidential election. Given Obama’s approval rating of roughly 40 per cent, it’s not a surprising political strategy.
So what terrible thing has Obama done to deserve this? The Affordable Health Care for America Act was passed, but Democrats can’t and shouldn’t distance themselves from that particular legislation. ISIS has emerged as a threat in the Middle East but, frankly, that is arguably par for the course at this point, and Democrats have been at least slightly more reticent than the Republicans to get involved in the region. That doesn’t give them a good reason to distance themselves from Obama, either. The NSA’s foreign and domestic spying program came to light, showing a far greater scope of surveillance than most expected. Many members of Congress have said that they had no idea what was going on. The White House claims that many were, in fact, briefed on the program, although what details were included in the briefing is an open question. Still, it’s not clear that worries about spying are the main motivation against Democrats. There is also Obama’s perceived failure to control the spread of Ebola, but it is not as if Obama can snap his fingers and thereby bring about more effective care in West Africa or via the CDC.
In spite of all these factors, I suspect the underlying sentiment motivating this is the public’s failure to believe in the Democrats. The rhetoric of Hope and Change that dominated in 2008 doesn’t seem to have translated to the sorts of goals that progressives really wanted. Overall approval for Congress currently sits at around 13 per cent. Where Democrats once fought to keep money out of politics, they now accept the reality of the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court decision and actively seek support from Super PACs, to which individuals can contribute as much money as they please. When Obama or Ms. Grimes, the Democrat mentioned above, aim to establish their legitimacy by firing a gun in a photo op, they flatly admit that they will aim to win on superfluous style and not substance. To an unfortunately large degree, that is simply politics as usual, but the Democrats’ perceived impotence during Obama’s Presidency has left them few positives with which they could draw support. At a time when many Americans are worried about the stability of the economy amidst foreign threats, both political and biological, to talk about what Democrats are not is simply not enough. They have to find a way to present a long-term, progressive vision of peace and welfare which they will actually stand up for rather than ceding to political expediency at nearly every opportunity.