Obama destroys the Democratic brand
By Dr. Grace Vuoto
President Barack Obama’s approval ratings continue to hit all-time lows, as he drags his party down with him. When Mr. Obama smashed the Hillary Clinton political machine to win the Democratic nomination in 2008, he also assumed the mantle over the party’s moderate wing, on the promise of building a new, broader and more energetic coalition. Yet, the opposite has happened: The Democratic Party now has an identity crisis; it is rudderless and adrift.
Mr. Obama began his tenure in office, having helped his party win three branches of government. But, in a mad dash to achieve a transformational legacy, Mr. Obama destroyed his own power base. When the president rammed Obamacare through Congress, he cajoled Democratic Party members to vote for the health care law despite public disapproval, promising they would be rewarded for the historic legislation.
Instead, moderate and conservative Democrats were defeated in the 2010 midterm elections, in what amounted to historic losses for the party. In particular, Blue Dog Democrats who champion fiscal restraint and pro-life Democrats were each reduced approximately in half, rendering them a paltry force. Congressional Democrats are now wary enough of the president to know his leadership can’t be trusted; it is a party of each one looking out for himself to preserve his standing with his constituents. The Democratic Party is in effect leaderless.
In a brilliant Sept. 4 column, in Salon by Matt Stoller, “What Democrats can do about Obama,” the Roosevelt Institute fellow states that the president “has ruined the Democratic Party.” The destruction is so stunning he is calling for Mr. Obama to be pushed off the ticket. “The 2010 wipeout was an electoral catastrophe so bad you'd have to go back to 1894 to find comparable losses,” writes Mr. Stoller. “From 2008 to 2010, according to Gallup, the fastest growing demographic party label was former Democrat. Obama took over the party in 2008 with 36 percent of Americans considering themselves Democrats. Within just two years, that number had dropped to 31 percent, which tied a 22-year low.”
The great irony of Mr. Obama’s presidency is that he has not built anything that endures. All is ephemeral. As a campaigner in 2008, he won over white voters, independents, women, the youth and Hispanics on a centrist agenda. However, in the first two years of his presidency he went so far to the left on an experimental, revolutionary course that delivered nothing for any of these groups.
They are now abandoning him in droves. According to an Aug. 27-31 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, the declining support among key constituents is stunning: 43 percent of women support the president now versus 56 percent in 2008; 31 percent of white voters support Mr. Obama today versus 43 percent in 2008; 26 percent of independent voters support the president now versus 52 percent in 2008; and 51 percent of Hispanics support him today versus 75 percent in 2008. The numbers are all headed in the same direction: down—as the coalition splinters irretrievably.
While these voters are discontented, has the president at least succeeded in satisfying the far left instead? In him do they see a champion of radicalism? Not so because, according to many progressives, he still has the nation mired in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, contrary to his campaign promises. He even defied the War Powers Act and launched a new war in Libya—without Congressional approval; a sin far greater than even the dreaded George W. Bush ever dared commit, in radical eyes.
Nor has Mr. Obama altered the manner in which the war on terror is being conducted: Guantanamo Bay remains open and the Patriot Act was renewed. In foreign affairs, with the exception of radical speeches, Mr. Obama has by and large continued the policies of Mr. Bush, but in a less effective manner and while despising and decrying them all along. This mishmash, too, has Democratic Party members in contortions.
Has this president perhaps stood up for “the little guy”? Democrats traditionally style themselves as populists vs. the so-called “corporate greed” of Republicans. This too rings hollow today because the president bailed out banks and big business, without producing an economic revival. The working class continues to suffer; the middle class remains stagnant. He is not their savior.
All the while, big business holds onto trillions of investment dollars rather than pour them into the economy in part because they do not trust the president or his policies. For the far left, like columnist Paul Krugman at the New York Times, Mr. Obama has not gone far enough—not enough stimulus cash, failed to impose taxes on wealthy Americans, failed to redistribute wealth. Thus, there is no single economic constituency that can call Mr. Obama their own.
In a heated confrontation with a citizen during a three-day summer bus tour in the Midwest, Mr. Obama said that he got the best deal he could get during the debt-ceiling crisis. This is an apt summary of his years in office. While pushing to the far left, he made deals that have satisfied no one..
The Democratic Party has weathered several crisis points in its history. During the late 1960s, the party was hijacked by New Age liberals who favored sexual liberalism, were anti-war and statist. The most successful Democratic president in the post-war era, Bill Clinton, championed moving to the right on economic issues while maintaining social liberalism. He was a “New Democrat.” Mr. Clinton came to power on the heels of the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization that promoted the “Third Way”—rejecting the extreme leftward turn of the Democratic Party. That was indeed the only successful governing recipe for the left in a nation that defines itself as center-right. Yet, during the Obama years, the DLC was dissolved, leaving nothing in its wake except Mr. Obama.
In a Sept. 3 column in the New York Times, “The One and Done?” Maureen Dowd ponders whether “The One” is “dancing on the edge of one term.” She concludes: “Maybe Obama was not even the person he was waiting for.”
The sad irony is that Mr. Obama has become his own worst enemy; he had a historic coalition that he built in record speed and just as quickly squandered. He had the full support of two branches of government—which he built and just as quickly squandered. He had the adulation of the far left, the media and the broad middle class—that he won over and just as quickly alienated.
Like a promiscuous lover, he woos and then abandons at dizzying speed, leaving little behind him except the memory of what could have been.
-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal. She can be reached at email@example.com
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