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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

SOTU Roadmap Includes Health Reform

In her HuffPo post on President Obama’s SOTU, health policy analyst Linda Bergthold explains the President’s health reform strategy going forward, and concludes that he is holding well enough. Bergthold also does a particularly good job of putting reform in context of current public opinion:

…A majority of Americans do want reform. They just don’t know what comprehensive reform means, do not understand what is actually in the bills that passed the Senate and the House, and have been led to believe a number of distortions of the proposed reforms.
A recent Kaiser Tracking Poll, conducted after the Massachusetts special election, revealed that when asked if they supported the current reforms, the public was split on the general question: 41 percent said they did not and 42 percent said they did. However, when asked about specific elements of reform and whether or not if these elements were included in the reform packages they would be more likely to support reform, the public had a very different answer. About two-thirds supported 18 of the key elements in the reform legislation that has already passed the House or the Senate (see 8 of those elements below). So, when details were pointed out about what was actually in the reform legislation, more people supported reform than when they were simply asked a general question about support or opposition.
In another analysis of support for reform vs. awareness of it, only a little over half of the respondents could estimate correctly if the element they liked was actually in the reform plans…And a NBC poll in August, in the heat of the summer Town Halls, found that approval for health reform went up significantly when people learned more about what was actually in the reform packages.

Bergthold presents a revealing chart from the Kaiser poll, indicating some of the most popular specific reform measures, including:

Tax credits to small businesses – 73%
Health insurance exchange – 67%
Won’t change most people’s existing arrangements – 66 %
Guaranteed issue – 63%
Medicaid expansion – 62%
Extend dependent coverage through age 25 – 60%
Help close the Medicare doughnut hole – 60%
Public option – 53%

Bergthold credits the President with listening to “more than the “top lines” and having considered “what those responses really mean in terms of specifics.” Bergthold concludes:

If you believed that Americans had really done their homework, studied the bills in detail and come to the conclusion that they opposed the whole package, then there would be reason to listen to doom and gloom predictions. But so few members of the public have done that homework on their own, as evidenced by the Kaiser poll, that the results of the polls seem misleading if not completely wrong.

Although some believe the President back-burnered health reform by not getting into it until a half hour into his speech, he did put the challenge clearly: “Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.”
President Obama is well-aware, however, that the Republican policy on health reform is “No.,” and his real challenge is unifying the Democratic Party and winning support from swing voters. But he offered no clues as to whether he thought the bill should be repackaged, or if part of it should be passed through budget reconciliation.
The President is the pitchman-in-chief when it comes to passing needed social reforms. He has admitted his failure to fully execute that responsibility and affirmed his commitment to do better. Although his comments about health reform were generally low-key in comparison to other issues, he was right in saying that congress also has to meet the challenge. In addition, somehow, progressive Democrats need to find a way of better educating swing voters about provisions of the health care package.

Could Bungling Wingnut Buggers Steal Show?

Almost slapped myself this morning for an over-long schadenfreude wallow about the wingnut stooges being popped for what appears to be a botched attempt to bug Senator Mary Landrieu’s office. They looked so deliciously stupid standing there in front of the TV cameras, smart asses hoisted by their own petards.
Darksyde reports at Daily Kos that O’Keefe was invited to keynote a fund-raiser for the Salt Lake City GOP on Feb 4, but now GOP Chairman Thomas Wright has told the Salt Lake Tribune: “We’ll be announcing a new speaker shortly.” Even better 31 Republican congressmen had signed on to a resolution honoring O’Keefe for his pimp portrayal in his scam to embarrass ACORN.
As you might expect, Talking Points Memo has the most thorough coverage of the scandal, and if there is more substantial GOP involvement in the bugging attempt, Marshall and company will surely root it out. The shadowy wingnut front groups involvement is being nicely untangled by TPM as you read. I’m sure you’ll be shocked, shocked that Beck, Hannity and O’Reilly, who lavished praise on O’Keefe’s ACORN theatrics, aren’t giving much play to his bust.
Hey, could this be a wingnut plot to deflect coverage from the President’s speech tonight? Nahhh. Nobody could fake that level of incompetence.

DSCC’s Call to Arms Overdue, But Welcome

Fox News, of all places, has an interesting web post, “Senate Dems Unfurl New Electoral Strategy: Divide and Conquer GOP,” reporting on a new memo from The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. According to the unsigned Fox post, the memo urges Democratic campaign managers to “define their Republican opponents early and to highlight the differences between moderate voters and tea party-style conservatives.” The Fox post quotes from the memo:

Given the pressure Republican candidates feel from the extreme right in their party, there is a critical — yet time-sensitive — opportunity for Democratic candidates,” the DSCC wrote in the memo, which was obtained by FoxNews.com. “We have a finite window when Republican candidates will feel susceptible to the extremists in their party. Given the urgent nature of this dynamic, we suggest an aggressive effort to get your opponents on the record

The DSCC memo rolls out some provocative questions for Democratic candidates to ask their Republican opponents, including:

Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen? Do you think the 10th Amendment bars Congress from issuing regulations like minimum health care coverage standards? Do you think programs like Social Security and Medicare represent socialism and should never have been created in the first place? Do you think President Obama is a socialist? Do you think America should return to a gold standard?

Not sure the gold standard question will resonate all that much with swing voters, but forcing opponents to answer the other questions should help flush out the inner tea-bagger in GOP candidates, or even better, amplify divisions between Republican candidates in primaries and encourage flip-flops.
According to Fox, The GOP responded to the DSCC Memo with their own advisory to Republican Senate candidates, including a series of ‘have you stopped beating your wife’ type questions for their Democratic opponents:

Would you support a second so-called ‘stimulus’ bill, even though the first failed to create much-needed jobs? Or do you believe the unspent money should be returned to the taxpayers? Are you willing to hold open discussions to reach an agreement on bipartisan health care reform, or will you continue to support backroom deals — such as the Cornhusker Kickback — in order to ram an unpopular and costly government-run health care bill through Congress?
Do you support increasing the nation’s debt limit by yet another $2 trillion? Do you agree with the Obama administration that terrorists should be afforded the same rights as American citizens, tried in American courtrooms, and ultimately held on American soil?

Maybe it’s just my partisan tilt, but the Democratic questions are less predicated on dubious assumptions, and have more potential for eliciting answers that inflict serious damage.
The Fox post goes on to cite a Rasmussen survey indicating voters are more likely to support tea party candidates than Republicans. The ‘divide and conquer’ strategy outlined in the DSCC memo, in the wake of Scott Brown’s MA upset win, appears sound and promising — provided Democratic candidates get on it early and work it hard.

Brown’s Inroads with Workers Key in MA

In her Wall St. Journal article, “Union Households Gave Boost to GOP’s Brown,” Melanie Trottman reports on a new Hart Research Poll:

A poll conducted on behalf of the AFL-CIO found that 49% of Massachusetts union households supported Mr. Brown in Tuesday’s voting, while 46% supported Democrat Martha Coakley…The poll showed Ms. Coakley drew more support among voters with a college education, by a five-point margin, while she lost by a 20-point margin among voters without a college degree.

Tula Connell puts it this way in her FiredogLake post, “The Working Class Has Spoken. Will Democrats Listen?” at the AFL-CIO Now Blog:

The poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates among 810 voters for the AFL-CIO on the night of the election, also found that although voters without a college degree favored Barack Obama by 21 percentage points in the 2008 election, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley lost that same group by a 20-point margin.

Should HCR Now Be Repackaged?

Now that all of the theories about why Dems lost Kennedy’s senate seat have been vented, we turn to the more challenging ‘where do we go from here? question.’ It’s really a two-parter, with long range and short-term responses needed. Breaking the short term down, the most immediate question at hand is ‘what do we do about health care reform?’
I’m against the suggestion that HCR be back-burnered to bring jobs and financial system reform to the fore. That may have been the best approach months ago, but it’s too late for that now. It would reek of defeatism, rally the GOP and make Democrats look ineffectual. We have to finish this battle, lest we be branded by swing voters as dithering blowhards.
One of the more interesting proposals in the wake of losing our 60th vote is to repackage health care reform into smaller units. Two approaches have thus far been proposed. Here’s William Greider’s suggestion, from his post at The Nation:

If comprehensive healthcare reform is out of the question, Obama Democrats can break it down into smaller pieces and try to pass worthy measures one by one. A bill to prohibit insurance companies from banning people with pre-existing ailments? Pass it the House and try to pass it in the Senate. If Republicans want to filibuster, make them filibuster. A measure to allow cheaper drug imports from Canada? Let Republicans vote against that. Repealing the antitrust exemption for insurance companies — Democrats support it. Democrats need to start a fight on taxes too. Do Republicans want to tax Wall Street banks or not? Obama has proposed it, let’s have a roll call. The attack strategy will focus on all the reforms people want and need and create a new political dynamic.

Robert Creamer, writing at The HuffPo, argues that HCR could be repackaged into two bills, but via a different route:

One option under consideration involves the House passing the Senate version of the bill as well as a second bill that includes the agreements negotiated in the conference between the Senate and House. The second bill would then be considered under the “budget reconciliation” rules that would not be subject to a Senate filibuster and could therefore become law with the support of a majority vote.
…In the short term, unless a Republican agrees to join with Democrats to cut off debate and bring the health care compromise to a vote in the Senate, the bill negotiated between the House and Senate leadership should be passed using the budget reconciliation rules.
The use of this procedure is not at all unprecedented. The States’ Children’s Health Insurance program (SCHIP) was originally passed using reconciliation rules. The Bush tax cuts were all passed with a simple majority vote using budget reconciliation rules. Nobody argued these measures were being “jammed through” because they did not require 60 votes.

Creamer also offers a response to the Republican whinefest that would follow this strategy:

…To hear some the Republicans, a few conservative Democrats, and portions of the media, you’d think that the idea of passing something with a majority in the Senate is a grave perversion of the Rule of Law — and would involve “jamming” the legislation through Congress. That formulation could well have come from the Mad Hatter. In democracies, the majorities get to make laws. In a democracy, the Minority tail should not be allowed to wag the Majority dog.
What is undemocratic is the idea that a minority — that also happens to represent the insurance industry and other wealthy, vested interests — can block the will of the majority.
During the last few years we’ve gotten so used to the idea that all major legislation requires 60 votes to pass the Senate that it now sounds “natural.” Some people even believe it is in the Constitution. But of course that’s not true. The Constitution assumes that both the House and Senate require a majority to conduct business and pass laws.
…And as we consider major legislation over the next year, we need to remember history. Voters don’t remember the the procedures used to pass major pieces of legislation. How many everyday Americans know — or care — that the Bush tax cuts, or SCHIP were passed using reconciliation procedures? Does anyone remember the procedure used to pass Social Security or Medicare? How many remember that the House Republicans kept the roll call open for an unprecedented three hours to round up the votes necessary to pass their prescription drug plan, Medicare Part D? Talk about jamming something through!
A month after something is passed, no one remembers or cares about the procedure used to pass major legislation. Major programs are judged by the voters based on their actual effect — not the procedure that was used to pass them…Scott Brown was not elected to be the 51st Republican in the Senate. He was elected to be the 41st Republican. That should not entitle Republicans to block every significant piece of legislation — to block fundamental change.
If we allow them to, shame on us.

Creamer is making good sense here. The budget reconciliation route is a more palatable option now, especially since our available choices have narrowed. He is clearly right that the GOP’s ’60 percent is the only real majority’ argument is a loser that invites ridicule, and Dems should not hesitate to provide it.
Both of these approaches have merit, because they guarantee Dems at least one, and likely more major victories. Elimination of “prior condition” as a disqualifying criteria is as close to a sure thing as is possible. Other measures in the current package also have a good chance of passing. It could certainly be said Democrats, and Democrats alone, provided the leadership that got these urgently-needed reforms passed.

MA Meltdown: The Local Buzz

After reading my favorite pundits’ unsurprising takes on Coakley’s MA meltdown, I thought I’d check out the Beantown rags, to see if they had any fresh angles. After all, these are the folks who saw the ad campaigns, heard the buzz in the watering holes and supermarkets and followed the story longer than those based elsewhere. Here’s the skinny from The Globe‘s Brian C. Mooney:

Brown, an obscure state senator with an unremarkable record when he entered the race four months ago, was a household name across the country by the end of the abbrevi ated campaign. Running a vigorous, smart, and error-free campaign, he became a vessel into which cranky and worried voters poured their frustrations and fears…To be sure, Brown was the beneficiary of the blundering campaign of his opponent, Coakley, who blew a 31-point lead in two months, according to one poll. But in electing Brown, a large segment of the electorate declared that there is little appetite for near-universal national health care, the chief domestic policy initiative of Obama, who carried the state by 26 percentage points only 14 months ago.
Brown skillfully made the election a referendum on the issue, nationalizing the race when he repeatedly said he would be the 41st vote in the Senate, enough for the GOP to block the Democrats’ bill. Money poured in from around the country. His campaign had an initial budget of $1.2 million but eventually spent $13 million, about $12 million of which came in via the Internet, a campaign official said last night.

So how bad was Coakley’s campaign? Mooney adds,

…Brown withstood the most blistering assault of late attack ads the state has ever seen. As Coakley began to collapse, her campaign, Democratic Party committees, outside organized labor, and environmental and abortion rights groups bankrolled a desperate multimillion-dollar carpet bombing ad campaign in an effort to halt Brown’s surge. It backfired. The ads, some of which distorted Brown’s record, created a blowback that scorched the Democrat. Coakley entered the campaign as a well-liked politician and ended with high negative poll ratings. She will probably face withering recriminations in Democratic circles, and her weakened status could produce a challenger to her reelection in the fall.

And perhaps most tellingly:

…The unflinching Brown had much more experience in tough partisan elections than Coakley, and it showed in this campaign. In 2004, the Republican won a close special election and November rematch to capture and then hold his state Senate seat. Coakley, by contrast, won the offices of attorney general and Middlesex district attorney over token Republican opponents.
Brown’s chief consultants were battle-tested not only in bruising state elections but also at the national level. Eric Fehrnstrom, Beth Myers, and Peter Flaherty, all principals of The Shawmut Group, were veterans of Mitt Romney’s 2002 gubernatorial and 2008 presidential campaigns. They provided strategic advice, developed the communications plan, and created Brown’s distinctive and highly effective television advertisements..

Mooney goes on to describe a controversial Brown ad, which got lots of attention, featuring JFK morphing into Brown, running 5 days, with no Coakley response, apparently because of “her run-out-the-clock strategy.”
In his article “How Brown Won,” David S. Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix adds to Mooney’s point about Brown’s campaign advisors:

Give credit to the brain trust behind Brown’s campaign: Mitt Romney’s top people, bred in Massachusetts politics and trained at the top levels of presidential combat. They were assembled on the stage at Park Plaza last night: Beth Myers, Beth Lindstrom, Peter Flaherty, Eric Fehrnstrom (texting away even as Brown delivered his victory speech), and of course the former governor himself, taking a victory lap in front of a national audience of cable-watching conservatives (and potential 2012 primary voters).
Watching them, it occurred to me that the same group spent most of 2007 traipsing across Iowa, having built the Romney strategy around winning that state’s caucuses; and that during that time they may have picked up a lesson or two from watching another campaign that bet heavily on Iowa: Barack Obama’s.
As that campaign’s manager David Plouffe describes in The Audacity To Win, Obama’s strategists knew from the start that they could not beat Hillary Clinton among the people who normally participate in caucuses. Thus, they had to expand the playing field — greatly increase the number (and type) of participants, so that the people who don’t normally vote would overwhelm the regulars.
Brown faced the same dilemma. It was widely accepted that turnout for the special election would be no more than 30 percent, or 1.2 million people — and that number would include more than 600,000 who had already voted in the Democratic primary. The math isn’t difficult.
If you like poker analogies, Coakley had a winning five-card hand, so Brown decided to make it a seven-card game.
…They did their job with Brown brilliantly, turning the well-to-do political hack suburbanite into a pickup-driving man of the people. And Brown, like Romney, is an outstanding candidate: disciplined, hard-working, and malleable.

The coverage in the Boston Herald was less revealing, other than relating U.S. Rep. Barney Frank’s assessment: “Martha Coakley was a lousy candidate. She let herself get involved in a personality debate.”
Mooney also notes that “Brown worked the talk radio circuit relentlessly…” All in all, the local accounts make it sound more like Coakley was outmaneuvered and outworked, and less like a pivotal majority was all that bent out of shape about the Democrats’ health care reforms. Absent any exit poll data, however, it’s impossible to say how much voter discontent about unemployment and the bailout influenced the vote. But it appears that Dems have been bested in candidate recruitment and campaign management in MA, as we were in the VA governor’s race.

Despite MSM Ostrich Reflex, GOP Running Scared

In his Informed Comment blog, Juan Cole, President of the Global Americana Institute, makes some interesting points in his post, “Why Republicans are Worried.

The corporate media are in the tank for a Republican comeback in 2010, and the GOP may in fact pick up some seats in the Senate and the House, though if employment ticks up by the fall, not as many as some are implying. The corporate media made a big deal about two Democrats who are stepping down but not about 6 Republicans who are. But the long-term trends look good for the Democratic Party.

Cole then presents a map captioned “This is what the 2008 electoral map would look like if the election were decided by 18-29 year-olds.” The map is a stunner, even considering reader comments about the relatively low voter turnout rates of youth (voters do grow older). There are only 8 red states, and only one of them, Georgia, is one of the ten largest states in electoral votes. There is one split state, Arkansas and two that have no data (Oregon and Colorado). The rest (39 states) are all a beautiful blue. The electoral vote tally of this map would be: Obama 455; McCain 57.
Readers of the demographic and opinion analysis of TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira will not be surprised by this data. Still the map is a jaw-dropper. Cole adds:

Political views are formed in young adulthood and for most people remain stable in later life. Republican wedge issues such as gay-bashing, cutting government services and help to people, and the promise of more wars are increasingly unattractive to the younger generation and that is unlikely to change soon. We could be on the verge of another FDR moment, of a long period of Democratic dominance.
John Judis and Ruy Teixeira were prescient.

It appears that Republicans have good reason to be afraid.
Not to wallow in “the glass is half empty” analysis, of such a beautiful graphic, but the map also indicates that the state and national Democratic parties have some youth outreach work to do in the 8 states (AK, GA, ID, LA, OK, UT, WV, WY). Might not be a bad idea to pump some cash and energy into youth political education and recruitment projects in the three largest of the eight states, and see what happens.

Appeals Court Overturns Felony Disenfranchisement

On the heels of my post yesterday urging Governor Kaine to restore voting rights to Virginia ex-felons who have served their sentences comes an appeals court ruling that felony disenfranchisement violates the Voting Rights Act. Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle reports on a 2-1 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Washington state law “violates the federal Voting Rights Act because evidence showed discrimination against minorities at every level of the state’s legal system: arrest, bail, prosecution and sentencing.”
Although the ruling applies to the state of Washington, it could apply to 8 other states in the circuit, including CA, which denies voting rights to 283,000 citizens who are in prison or on parole, about 114,000 of whom are African Americans. Egelko explains further:

Among those in Washington state who commit crimes, “minorities are more likely than whites to be searched, arrested, detained and ultimately prosecuted,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima said in the appeals court’s majority opinion.
For example, he said, studies showed that African Americans in Washington were more than nine times as likely to be in prison as whites and 70 percent more likely to be searched, even though a study of one police department found that officers were more likely to find contraband when searching whites…Findings were similar for Latinos and Native Americans, none of which could be explained by differences in crime rates, Tashima said.
The Voting Rights Act “demands that such racial discrimination not spread to the ballot box,” he said.

What is important about the decision, explains Egelko, is that “The ruling is the first by an appeals court to overturn a state’s prohibition on voting by felons, which exists in different versions in every state except Maine and Vermont.” However, three previous federal appeals court rulings have said that the Voting Rights Act does not invalidate felony disenfranchisement laws.
It would also be surprising if the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling, given it’s current conservative majority and their proclivity for shameless political partisanship. On the other hand, the tide seems to be turning regarding felony disenfranchisement, and we are likely just one justice away from consigning racist felony disenfranchisement laws to their rightful place on the dung-heap of history.

Governor Kaine’s Opportunity

Mitch Malasky of Sum of Change, has an interesting Daily Kos post, “The Restoration of Rights for Former Felons in Virginia” in which he spotlights an important opportunity that could give Dems a potential edge of thousands of voters in a key swing state.
Malasky notes that only two states, KY and VA have no laws restoring citizenship rights (voting) to convicted felons who have served their sentences. All other states have a voting rights restoration path. Malasky adds,

This puts a plethora of problems and restrictions on former felons, many of whom were convicted of non-violent crimes decades ago but continue have their basic rights, such as the right to vote in elections, the right to drive, and the right to hold office, restricted. The governor has the authority to restore rights to individual felons, but only a small percentage of them apply for restoration (often because the process is unclear) and even fewer are actually approved to have their rights restored. The 48 other states have some sort of provision to automatically restore rights, two states never revoke them in the first place, so we, and many others, feel that it time to change the situation.

A good cause, made urgent priority by a small window of opportunity being opened for Dems in VA. Malasky explains:

This next two weeks are very important for doing just because that is all the time left Virginia has with Democratic Governor Tim Kaine, who will be replaced in two weeks when he leaves office to become the chair of the DNC by Republican Bob MacDonnell. Gov Kaine has personally restored the rights to more former felons than any of his predecessors, but he has the ability to, by executive order, to instantly restore rights to the tens of thousands of former felons who currently do not have them and establish such a system to automatically restore these rights in the future…

According to Malasky, a coalition spearheaded by the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP) is taking the lead in organizing Virginians to support restoration of voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. The coalition urges Virginians to call Gov. Kaine (804-786-2211) and urge him to sign the executive order. Kaine, who has restored, on a case by case basis, the voting rights of all individual applicants who have completed their sentences for nonviolent crimes, has said “our analysis of Virginia law is that I can’t just do a blanket restoration – I have to restore people by name.”
Felon disenfranchisement is a national disgrace in a nation that prides itself in democracy. Disenfranchising convicted felons who have served their sentences, as do VA and KY, compounds the injustice, as does the fact that a disproportionate share of disenfranchised former felons are African Americans.
As The Sentencing Project notes,

An estimated 5.3 million American citizens cannot vote because of a criminal conviction. Of these, 4 million are out of prison and living and working in the community…This fundamental obstacle to participation in democratic life is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in an estimated 13% of Black men unable to vote…Restoring a person’s right to vote is a critical element to successful reentry into society after incarceration and consistent with our democracy’s modern ideal of universal suffrage.
…More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs,” in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.

According to The Sentencing Project, more than 377,000 Virginians have been disenfranchised as a result of felony convictions, more than 208 thousand of whom are African Americans. In terms of racial disparities in current incarceration rates in Virginia, the ratio of black to white is 5.9:1 and 1.2:1 for Hispanic to white Virginians.
Kaine should go ahead and issue the executive order, not because it helps his party, but because it’s the right thing to do. If it doesn’t hold up as law, he will still have taken a stand to promote awareness of a gross injustice and right a great wrong.
Meanwhile, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) is pushing his Democracy Restoration Act and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has a similar House bill, “the Civic Participation and Rehabilitation Act,” both of which would restore federal voting rights to all citizens released from prison and living in the community. A great cause, and one which should be a more urgent legislative priority — especially for Dems.

Flipping the Mid-Terms

Since the Civil War, only two presidents, FDR in 1934 and Bush in 2002, have seen their party gain seats in the House and Senate as a result of their first mid term elections. FDR broke the pattern with bold economic reforms that inspired confidence in his personal competence and his party, and added 9 Senate seats and 9 House seats for Democrats. Bush did it as a saber-rattling cheerleader at a time when swing voters were receptive, adding 8 House members and 2 Senators to the GOP herd.
Interesting, that these two exceptions were achieved by America’s best and worst presidents, the four-termer who lead the world to economic recovery and won two wars; and the other who gave us an economic disaster of historic magnitude and budget-busting military entanglements of dubious purpose.
One common denominator here might be that bold action, rooted in a patriotic appeal early in a first Administration, can sometimes win an upset. Another common denominator is that both made highly-effective use of the bully-pulpit, more specifically the power of the President to make news. FDR shrewdly leveraged the available media of his day (e.g. radio fireside chats, schmoozing journalists) to maximum advantage, making the New Deal a patriotic enterprise in the minds of swing voters. Both FDR and Bush were cheerleaders. Bush quite literally began honing his chops as a cheerleader for his high school’s athletic teams, and he also benefited from the rising power of conservative media – Fox News and wingnut radio in particular.
While some would say that the Iraq war was the pivotal event that gave the GOP it’s win in ’02, to give W fair credit, he worked his tail off for his Party in 2002. By October of that year, for example, he had held 8 large public rallies expressly for Republican candidates, not merely the usual fund-raisers with wealthy contributors – a lesson that might benefit Obama on Nov. 2nd.
Presidential cheer-leading is more complicated now. By 2006, Bush had squandered all of his media capital, and the six-year itch” took hold as voters gave upsets to the Democrats. Plus, the power of the internet took a quantum leap forward as a force in political communication, with Democrats benefiting most. The internet is even more potent today as a political opinion-shaper.
So the question is worth raising, is there any chance the Dems could actually pick-up seats in congress in November?
Most pundits say no, with their poll-based projections of Democratic losses in the range of 20-30 House seats and 3-6 Senate seats. In the past 17 midterm elections, the president’s party has lost an average 28 House seats, and an average loss of 4 Senate seats. Hard to find many who think Dems could flip the reality in the other direction. The DCCC has even created a “Frontline Program” to protect a designated 40 House seats believed to be in endangered by the GOP. On the other hand, the GOP’s RCCC has designated the 25 most vulnerable House seats they hold to be protected by their “Patriot Program” fund-raising initiative.
Political upsets happen, and they are never based on abandoning all hope because of polls. A favorable turn of events can help. More likely, however, they require a critical mass of pro-Democratic activists to embrace the challenge with undaunted determination. Such an activist coalition would include Democratic candidates, their staffs, Democratic party workers, blogosphere and community activists and progressive journalists, ideally working together as much as possible in harmonizing messaging and tapping the power of their formidable echo-chamber. If the GOP’s edge has been Party discipline, as seems a fair assessment, the Dems’ edge could be a more advanced echo-chamber that now reaches nearly all homes in suburban swing districts.
The stakes are enormous. Imagine what Democrats could do with a real majority of progressives in their congressional ranks, which could be a small as 3 Senate pick-ups and a dozen House seats. Unlikely, probably – but not totally out of the range of possibility given a little luck and some hard work.
On the outside chance that ‘creative visualization’ can have some political benefits, let’s entertain event scenarios in which the Democrats actually gain Senate and House seats in the 2010 midterms. In no particular order, here’s a few:

Our military captures/destroys bin Laden and al Qeda’s top leaders at the optimum moment, sometime between the end of summer and the November vote. Barring the apprehension of bin Laden, however, it’s not easy to visualize any great military victories in Afghanistan before November that could benefit the President’s party.
The economy starts to bloom more energetically than expected. This may be our best shot. There are some signs of an upturn in the making.
Democratic memes concerning health care reform take root in swing voter attitudes (Some combination of “Damn, this health reform deal is better than I thought” and “Jeez, those Republicans really have no credible alternatives). This is one of the few ways Democratic activists can have a deliberate impact. And, President Obama’s strategy of letting congress shape health care reform, without much white house involvement, now looks pretty good, in comparison to the Clinton Administration’s more ‘hands on’ strategy.
The progressive blogosphere should develop some new ways to reach out to a broader constituency, instead of preaching to already-converted liberals. Democrats in general need some creative initiatives to reach swing voters with memes and messages in key districts. Outlets like YouTube and streaming video in general open up new realms of message transmission, although they won’t be widely rooted among less than tech-savvy voters until a couple of mid-terms later. The time is ripe, however, for some creative meme propagation.
Another rash of GOP scandals kicks in. Always possible, given the greed-driven basis of many Republican campaigns, though fortuitous timing is unlikely.

In the longer term, it’s clear that Democrats have to develop a program to increase turnout in off-year elections, particularly among friendly constituencies. Some innovative ideas are urgently-needed here. We should also support a program to accelerate naturalization to increase the universe of Dem-favoring registered voters.
No doubt there are other possible events and trends that could flip to Nov 2nd outcome in Democrats’ favor. The biggest mistake would be to say, “Well, the President’s Party always loses seats in the mid-terms,” and cede unnecessary ground to the Republicans. Even given a favorable turn of events, heightened Democratic activism is needed for our optimum performance in the 2010 mid-terms. Our best possible New Year’s resolution would be to sound the knell for mid-term apathy in the Democratic Party.