So Charlie Cook has written that Democrats are in jeopardy of losing at least 10 (and as many as 13) Senate Seats in 2014. It's great copy. Democrats in Disarray! And that old Beltway trope has caused many of our friends to surrender in despair months before the campaign really begins. It is to that irrational pessimism that I feel I must offer the sage wisdom of David Plouffe from his January 24, 2010 Op-Ed in the Washington Post:
No Bed-Wetting.(1)Now that that's out of the way, let's examine the argument of impending Democratic doom. A recent diary claims that progressives will unfairly be blamed for those losses. I cannot challenge that conclusion because above all, nothing has been lost yet. However, the diary in question is recent, and conveniently summarizes a number of arguments originating from our dissatisfied friends on the Left that date all the way back to when Barack Obama was first sworn in as the 44th President of The United States. The diary in question is well-written and well thought out. In my opinion, the author makes a number of sincere points, many of which are based in good faith on bad arguments from others. This diary is not a call-out, and not a specific retort to the diary in question. Rather, it is a scientific challenge to many of the fallacies that have unfortunately permeated the community and continue to find their way into arguments. The good news is, they are all wrong, and demonstrably so! The bad news is, 2014 is still going to be a difficult election cycle. So let's apply a little logic.
Myth #1: We will lose in 2014 because liberals are dissatisfied with Obama.
You may be dissatisfied with President Obama, but liberals, as a body, are not. In fact, liberals are more likely to approve of Barack Obama's job performance than any other political ideology. Let's look at liberal, Democratic, and Moderate Democratic Support of President Obama over his Presidency(2):
See anything interesting? The trend more or less coincides with his overall approval. The corollary to this conclusion is that the more liberal one self-identifies, the more likely they approve of the President(3). And that horizontal line? that was the launch of the health care web site.
Myth #2: We will lose in 2014 because President Obama doesn't use the bully pulpit.
The bully pulpit myth has many aliases, and the best, in my personal opinion, is the Green Lantern Theory, coined by Matt Yglesias.
Gary Younge makes a number of very important criticisms regarding the President's tendency to engage in contradictory actions that he alone could easily resolve. Those can be addressed in a separate space. But the reason I have called out George Younge here is because he then wanders through a series of easily debunked logical fallacies regarding the Presidency; fallacies that are all too often echoed here.
"The gap between rich and poor and black and white has grown while he's been in the White House, the prospects for immigration reform remain remote, bankers made away with the loot, and Guantanamo's still open [In brightest day, in darkest night. No evil shall escape my sight...] It's true there's a limit to what a president can do about much of this and that Republican intransigence has not helped..."No shit. But that doesn't stop the author from directing his ire at the President, and not the Republican Congress. The truth is, the myth of the bully pulpit has been largely debunked by Presidential historians. Geroge Younge seems to acknowledge this, but can't stomach what this conclusion means.
And I think facing the ugly truth is a major factor behind the outbreak of "bed wetting" in advance of 2014, even after Democrats had a huge 2013. Liberals can't stomach the fact that a President, whether it be Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Cuomo, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, has Constitutionally limited powers to solve the Country's problems without assistance from Congress, and that help isn't coming any time soon.
Myth #3: We will lose in 2014 because President Obama isn't LBJ.
This myth is closely related to the bully pulpit myth, and it's where George Younge, and many liberals, try to seek refuge when confronted with that ugly reality of Constitutionally limited Presidential powers. Past must certainly be prologue, right? A President (LBJ) did it once, he can do it again, right?
But before we talk about Obama needing to be more like LBJ, to all of those old enough to have lived through Vietnam: Thank the FSM that Barack Obama isn't LBJ. When he declined to seek reelection rather than face certain defeat, he left a Democratic Party hopelessly broken and splintered. It would still take another 26 years for those divisions to fully reverberate out to the electorate as a whole, from the cataclysmic 1968 Democratic National Convention to Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution.
John Farrell has smacked down the LBJ myth arguing that Obama can't just have his way with Congress now because to do so requires a very rare set of circumstances: a national catastrophe, willing legislators, and legislation suiting the catastrophe. LBJ accomplished a great deal of good pushing JFK's stalled proposals in the wake of his death. George W. Bush gave us the National Security State in the aftermath of September 11. And Barack Obama accomplished arguably more than LBJ in a very narrow period between his Inauguration and the Tea Party Revolution. Clay Risen of the New Republic has also challenged this persistent myth that seems to appear when the bed-wetting starts. The point is, there is a very narrow time frame where the situation is right, and Barack Obama, like LBJ and George W. Bush already exploited it. That window is closed.
Myth #4: We will lose in 2014 because of DLC-Type Democrats.
This is a myth? Trust me, I wish it wasn't. Let's look at youth voting since 1974(4):
Youth turnout has been atrociously low dating back to 1974; before there was a DLC, before Obama let everyone down, before there were disillusioned millennials, before there was a (new) millennium, before Obama was worse than Bush, and before neoliberal economic policies entered Congress during the Carter Administration. Now admittedly, it has dropped off during certain midterms, and in a close race, every little bit helps. But look at the comparison between Presidential Years and Midterm Years:
Congress is on the ballot every election year. That means the same lousy Democrats are on the ballot in Presidential and Non-Presidential even-numbered years. Democrats don't just magically suck more when the year isn't evenly divisible by four!
I really cannot find any clearer data to refute the myth that we will lose in 2014 because liberals are dissatisfied with, well, whatever they're dissatisfied with.
Myth #5: We will lose in 2014 because of KeystoneXL (substitute any other policy issue).
This myth is the subject of another recent diary. The KeystoneXL has (rightly, in my opinion) become a major issue amongst liberal activists. and please don't confuse this myth with my personal opinions on the pipeline. But from President Obama's perspective, why should he reject it(5)? The base isn't going to turn out regardless of whether he approves it or not. The public relations war for KeystoneXL was lost long ago, and he would have to endure acute political pain for rejecting it.
This is the same for many other policy wishes.
Democrats can claim that they'll show up if Obama grants their wish on KeystoneXL, but they're lying. We have decades of history proving that the base is certainly capable of getting to the polls, just not in off-Presidential cycle elections. And the President knows this. So why would he risk a bad jobs report in September or a gas spike in August? Democrats must not fool themselves into thinking that the threat of withholding a vote will be effective, because those doing the most threatening are probably the least likely to show up.
So how about some hard truth?
Truth #1: Democrats have a tough map.
By shear luck of the draw, Democrats are defending a number of Senate seats in Republican states. Period. Here is the list of senate races in question, and here is the margin by which Romney beat Obama... in 2012:
Now here's some quotes from Sun Tzu's Art of War
"Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak."
"Fight with all your might, there is a chance of life ; whereas death is certain if you cling to your corner."But you know what? Obama could approve or reject KeystoneXL in 2014, and that map from 2012 won't change.
Truth #2: Washington D.C. is wired for Republicans.
Josh Marshall wrote the following, way back in 2009:
"We're coming off of, or at least we've had a period of ... thirty plus years of conservative dominance of Washington ... notwithstanding Bill Clinton's eight years in office. That conditions a generation of people with mindsets based around Republicans being the party of power, the party whose ideas get vindicated at the polls. Most of all Washington is a city that coddles up to and worships power. But a generation of one party holding the reins selects for certain kinds of journalists in key positions of power, the policy experts at the think tanks who get the journalists calls, the lobbyists who move the most money and so forth. You build up a set of assumptions about what kinds of people and ideas are respectable and which aren't. Which are old-fashioned, which are 'cutting edge' and so forth. Who defines conventional wisdom?... In all of these respects, DC remains overwhelmingly wired for the GOP."Now go back and look at that horrible and enlightening link from Tegan Goddard I placed in the Introduction about Democrats being in disarray.
"Yes, Republicans have been in disarray, too, from time to time--the low points of the Iraq War, Katrina, and just last month during the government shutdown. But for a variety of reasons, the 24-7 news cycle era has found Dems in disarray to be a far more potent story line than Republicans in disarray. It's alliterative, for starters. And it has been, I readily concede, legitimately true at times. Plus, Fox, for many years, drove the agenda that the other cable nets swallowed hook, line, and sinker... And Republicans have tended to have tougher game faces, march more in lockstep, and not concede those crucial rhetorical inches that Democrats so often feel compelled to grant."From "time to time", Tegan? Did you sleep through 2012? And 2013? But that doesn't matter, because 'Democrats in Disarray' is alliterative(6), FOX News said so, Matt Drudge rules our world, and Republicans appear confident. According to Josh Marshall's theory, this may change, eventually. But it's not going away any time soon.
Truth #2.1: Washington is wired for the 1%.
This is the corollary to Truth #2, as we've seen by this mornings sickining Politico article. The Beltway Media loves power, and money is power, ergo, the Beltway Media will defend the 1%. The Republicans, and their sympathizers in the ostensibly "objective" media would love nothing more than to champion 2014 results as a Leave Bain Alone redux and get those pesky Democrats off the case of the 1%.
Truth #3: Confidence Matters.
Now about that confidence point from Tegan Goddard, which is the only legitimate point he made(7)...
Throughout the Obama Presidency, liberal and left-leaning pundits have suffered a number of what could best be described as confidence crises. Perhaps it is a result of the Internet and the accelerated news cycle, but I don't ever recall the Left having such a visual meltdown during the objectively disastrous Carter Administration, or when Bill Clinton's Presidency was legitimately in trouble.
The most famous panic attack of Obama's Presidency was the first debate appearance by President Obama against Mitt Romney in 2012. With Andrew Sullivan leading a very visual charge to flip the eff out the hardest and fastest, with Chris Matthews following close behind on National Television. Now neither Andrew Sullivan nor Chris Matthews have any obligation to support or oppose the President. But what if the roles had been reversed? What if Mitt Romney was the incumbant ahead in the polls, and he had a terrible debate performance. Would any Fox News commentator acknowledge it? Of course not. It's not just that they are carrying water for the Republican Party -- it's that they're confident, even to a hilarious fault. The first debate is ancient history. But the point is that the complete lack of confidence among liberals, the "bed wetting" to use that awful expression again, probably hurt the President more in the following days than the actual debate performance. This phenomenon was documented by Kevin Drum:
"...People who were polled during the debate thought it was about even. People polled after the debate thought Romney won. People polled a little later, after the media feeding frenzy, thought Romney crushed Obama in an epic rout..."What if Democrats had simply said maintained supreme confidence throughout the aftermath of the debate? It's just a debate, and there is strong evidence debates don't matter, and Democrats love empirical evidence. Would there still have been a media frenzy? One that negatively impacted the poll numbers, even if for a short time? Probably not.
And we saw this again this fall, when one part of one part of Obamacare, the federal exchange web site, didn't work at first. It has since been fixed. I would like to do a word cloud of Greg Sargent's (always excellent and supportive) writing on Obamacare. I would suspect tha the word 'disastrous' would still be the largest in the cloud. There are too many articles by Greg Sargent to link to here. But what followed was a media frenzy, and elite Democratic opinion turning from the opinion that, really, it's just a website, to full-on abandonment of the most significant policy achievement in decades. After all, this is what the Republicans, and their sympathisers in the Beltway media, want more than anything; for Democrats to abandone healthcare reform. Now we're on target to exceed the revised CBO estimate.
So what should Democrats do?
Be positive. Avoid the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. Just because Republicans are likely to win more than lose in 2014 for structural reasons (and this election is seven and a half months away), that doesn't mean that it vindicates Republican policies. The Media will try to spin it that way, because they are sympathetic to Republican policies and politicians. But correlation doesn't equal causation.
Be confident. Republicans do have something to teach Democrats about confidence. The GOP autopsy was issued one year ago today. Remember that thing they ignored? We've talked about confidence. What the GOP is doing by ignoring the autopsy in favor of short term political gain is gall, not confidence. Still, Democrats should learn to ignore the short-lived spin that will last until Electrion 2016 kicks off, right after the polls close in 2014. Markos is right. We have made progress. As previously noted, Democrats had a huge 2013, and the best part was killing of the Village's top choice for 2016.
Go on offense. Eugene Robinson (and Sun Tzu) couldn't be any more right. Because Eugene Robinson can say anything better than I can think it, and I can't block quote the entire article for fear of Fair Use violations, I will leave with what I believe to be the most important part of his essay:
"...Democrats facing close contests this fall should play offense on Obamacare, not defense. They should tell voters that the ACA is a landmark achievement — the biggest expansion of access to health care in decades, fulfilling a long-held progressive dream. They should accuse their GOP opponents of playing voters for fools by cynically pretending that repeal is just around the corner.-----
Democrats should talk about what’s right with the ACA. They should talk about the millions of formerly uninsured Americans who now have coverage. They should talk about the millions of others who now are covered under Medicaid. They should talk about the young people who are able to be covered under their parents’ policies. They should talk about the diabetics and cancer survivors who now cannot be denied coverage because of their conditions.
The Democratic Party has long taken the position that no one should have to declare bankruptcy because of illness, that no one should have to choose between paying for medicine and paying the mortgage. If Democrats can’t proclaim these beliefs with pride, why on earth are they running? ...
(1) I know this is a vile epxression, and I don't mean any offense to anyone who suffers from incontenence, etc. But I do believe the shock value in the expression carries needed weight.
(2) Source: Gallup historical data through. Gallup received a lot of criticism for blowing the 2012 election and showing a consistent +R bias. However, they are a responsible and respected pollster. For the sake of this argument, it is precision, not accuracy, that matters, and there is no reason to discount Gallup as imprecise.
(3) Notice that the decrease in approval comes across ideological spectrum, and is more or less proportional within each ideological subgroup. Evaluating the reasons for this are the subject of another diary.
(4) Source: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement
(5) Purely from a short-term political thinking perspective, not from an environmental or doing the right thing perspective.
(6) Perhaps they should just change their name to avoid this meme? I suggest the Tasticrats.
(7) It never ceases to amaze me to the degree wto which a Beltway pundit can take a legitimate point and drown it in a sea of Beltway-CW inanity.