What a great time to be a Congressional Democrat! Buoyed by President Obama’s immense popularity, Senators and Representatives are expected to ride the President’s coat tails to victories this November. By the time it’s all over, Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress should be even greater than they are today.
How did we get here? Democrats in Congress deserve much of the credit themselves, for the passage of several significant pieces of legislation even in the face of Republican opposition. But the ultimate credit belongs to the President, who has successfully navigated the Party through the difficult waters of the past two years.
Let’s start at the bottom: the economy. Yes, the economy is still in trouble (even though we just learned that the recession officially ended in June 2009). Unemployment is still far too high.
Still, Obama gets credit for saving our economy from a far worse near-certain disaster. Thanks to the President’s “financial stimulus package,” the situation today is far better than it would have otherwise been. At least that’s the consensus among economists, both progressive and conservative. If anything, their most common criticism has been that the stimulus did not go far enough.
Even the government “bail-out” of Chrysler and General Motors, which met with very mixed reviews at the time, now looks very smart — as these companies are out of bankruptcy and well on the road to recovery. And the taxpayers are expected to recoup their investment.
As if that was not enough, Obama led the way to the passage of the most significant financial reform legislation in decades. Among other things, it establishes a Consumer Protection Agency — which should allow the government to better serve as a consumer advocate against corporations. It also limits many of the recent excesses of banks, providing tighter controls of derivative sales and credit card fees. Overall, this is a huge win for the average American.
It doesn’t stop there. The Senate recently passed a long-stalled measure “to aid small businesses with tax breaks and expanded credit, a victory for President Obama after the bill was stalled for months by Republican opposition.” (NYT)
On a related front, President Obama continues his efforts to eliminate tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
Probably the best place to look for the reasons behind Obama’s popularity is health care reform. Thanks to the passage of this landmark legislation, Americans can no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions or because of a change in their employment. Plus, millions of Americans who have never been able to afford insurance will now be covered. This is something that has been sought by Presidents, both Democrat and Republican, for more than a century. It took Obama to finally achieve this success. And he did so despite nearly universal opposition from a Republican party that was determined to do everything possible to undermine its passage.
While foreign policy has not been at the forefront of this year’s election debates, it’s worth noting that Obama has done admirably well here.
Fulfilling a campaign promise, he has pulled all combat troops out of Iraq — winding down a war that the public has long since wanted to see end.
Afghanistan remains a more difficult problem. Still, Obama has followed through on his campaign pledge to increase troop levels there as part of an overall strategy to stabilize — and ultimately improve — the position there. In his firing of General Stanley McChrystal and replacing him with General David Patraeus, Obama handled an awkward situation with the sort of leadership that even drew praise from Republicans.
Finally, he has rekindled hopes for a peace settlement in the Mideast by getting both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet for negotiations earlier this month.
In less than two years in office, President Obama has successfully navigated the potentially treacherous political waters of Supreme Court nominations to have not just one but two nominees appointed to the bench. He did this despite the fact that both nominees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, carried the potential “political liabilities” of being women and from minority ethnic backgrounds — and (yet again) faced almost universal Republican opposition.
Not all of the expected success of Democrats this fall is due to the achievements of Obama and the Democratic Party. They have been helped by the failure of Republicans. While neither political party is winning much praise right now, national polls consistently show that Republicans are even less popular than Democrats. They continue to be hurt by their reputation as the “party of no” — intent on blocking anything that Democrats attempt to do, yet offering no alternative vision of their own. And the far right’s views on social issues — such as abortion, gay marriage, religion in schools, and immigration — remain outside of the mainstream.
Obviously, not everything that Obama has done has met with overwhelming approval. Voters remain especially angry about the economy, as they see deficits rising and unemployment not going down. But voters are wise enough to know that Obama’s policies are not the primary causes of these problems. More to the point, Obama is doing much to improve matters. In contrast, Republicans represent a return to the policies that led us down this road in the first place. In the end, this is why Obama and the Democrats will emerge as the big winners come election night this November.
This column was written in an alternate universe. While all the achievements cited here are factually true, it is only in the alternate universe that these achievements have translated into popularity and political success for Obama and the Democrats. In the “real” universe, the situation is quite different.
The reason for this difference has more to do with a political climate that relies on lies and fear rather than on fact and rational thought. I’m not saying that there are no reasonable rebuttals to what I have written here. There are. But the overall story I’ve depicted, the “framing” of the situation, is at least as compelling as the distorted one that is now on the front pages — currently dominated by The Tea Party and the far right. In an alternate universe, one just ever so slightly different from the one we live in, my framing could well be the dominant one. However, it would have to be a universe where Democrats are much more politically adept at getting their message out, where extreme views (on both the left and especially the right) do not dominate the political climate, and where people’s opinions are mainly determined by what is actually true. In such a universe, for example, over 50% of Republicans would not believe that Obama is a Muslim. Conservatives could not get away with branding Obama as a “socialist” (and worse) from the day he took office. This is “spin,” not reality.
Unfortunately, for all Americans, we do not live in this alternate universe.