As I’ve noted before: one of the most horrible things to encounter in politics is to watch a group wreck itself and its electoral chances. The sensation is much like running in mud or maple syrup; you move and move, but never quite fast enough to matter. For true horror, the situation has to be as follows:
- The situation has to be easily repairable;
- The needed repair has to be something that is politically unpalatable to the people affected;
- The people affected have to know how much trouble they’re in;
- They have to spend a lot of effort and capital trying to energetically do the wrong thing;
- And they have to keep up with the energy and effort and earnestness until the final collapse and wreck.
Really, it’s horrible. Frustrating. The sort of thing that would make any reasonable person want to go into a national party HQ and start beating people with other people while screaming “Why won’t you just LISTEN to me for a change?” The ability to see a disaster but not be able to do anything about it has been the fuel for particularly frightening tragedies since the days of Homer, and has nothing to recommend it. Unless, of course, it’s happening to the other guys.
Then it’s just funny.
Today’s exercise in humor comes to us via Hotline on Call, where they’re quietly coming to the panicked realization that it is August and those people are increasingly growing stronger and the Democrats are going to lose. To the National Journal’s credit, they can usually keep a reasonably good handle on their public expressions of partisanship, so their horror at hearing that the population knows who to blame for the economy only shows through here and there:
Dems have tried repeatedly to tie the GOP to Bush’s economic policies, which remain highly unpopular. But so far, that hasn’t worked, according to officials at the Dem-leaning Third Way think tank.
“Just eighteen months after President Bush left office with the nation’s economy in historic freefall, two-thirds of Americans now see congressional Republicans and their economic ideas as new and completely separate from those of the former president,” the group wrote in a strategy memo sent to Dem leaders last month.
The article goes on to catalog the desperate hope of the Democrats that screaming “BUSH!” will work anyway. Two reasons why that won’t, though:
- Arguments that Democrats like are not always arguments that Americans like. Contra Hotline, Third Way is a self-identified progressive group. You can look at the June 2010 poll that they conducted here; it’s full of fuel for a lot of fires (probably why it’s not being linked more), but even the most generous reading of it shows that the Democrats’ basic strategy of raising taxes and increasing government size simply isn’t popular (which we knew already, because the Democrats wouldn’t be trying a negative strategy if a positive one would work). For that matter, if we’re going to play dueling polls let’s look at Rasmussen’s much more recent one on how the population is now blaming Obama more (within MoE) than they are Bush on the economy. The most important sentence in that poll? “Among voters not affiliated with either major party, Obama is now chiefly to blame by a 52% to 44% margin.” And that leads us to the next reason…
- Arguments that get Democrats out to the polls are not necessarily relevant to the problem of winning elections. Michael Barone noted a couple of days ago that the Democrats have a structural disadvantage when it comes to Congressional Districts: for various reasons, the districts that are Democratic tend to be very Democratic, and even wastefully so. If this was 2012, blaming Bush would no doubt be a viable tactic for a Presidential campaign; it gets the base out on the national/state level. But if I’m a Democratic incumbent in a district where the election’s going to be decided by independents, I’m not going to be helped out by an argument that doesn’t work on them, and might even hurt my standing with them*. And I suspect that I will not be comforted by hearing that the same argument pulled my urban colleagues out of what might have been a tight spot.
So… I could be wrong, but this looks like the Democrats have decided to fight the last war, here. Or possibly they’re just creating a firewall in the hope of preserving the liberal core of the Democratic party for a future recovery. Either isn’t exactly a victory strategy, and not my problem anyway.
*Americans hate whiners.
Crossposted to Moe Lane.