A reader of The New York Times and Washington Post might become quite confused as to who is winning. Today E. J. Dionne tells us the Tea Party is winning. However, yesterday Frank Rich pointed out that things are not going well for the far right:
Glenn Beck’s ratings at Fox News continued their steady decline, falling to an all-time low last month. He has lost 39 percent of his viewers in a year and 48 percent of the prime 25-to-54 age demographic. His strenuous recent efforts to portray the Egyptian revolution as an apocalyptic leftist-jihadist conspiracy have inspired more laughs than adherents.
Sarah Palin’s tailspin is also pronounced. It can be seen in polls, certainly: the ABC News-Washington Post survey found that 30 percent of Americans approved of her response to the Tucson massacre and 46 percent did not. (Obama’s numbers in the same poll were 78 percent favorable, 12 percent negative.) But equally telling was the fate of a Palin speech scheduled for May at a so-called Patriots & Warriors Gala in Glendale, Colo.
Tickets to see Palin, announced at $185 on Jan. 16, eight days after Tucson, were slashed to half-price in early February. Then the speech was canceled altogether, with the organizers blaming “safety concerns resulting from an onslaught of negative feedback.” But when The Denver Post sought out the Glendale police chief, he reported there had been no threats or other causes for alarm. The real “negative feedback” may have been anemic ticket sales, particularly if they were to cover Palin’s standard $100,000 fee.
The news section of The New York Times also points out problems faced by the Republicans:
…in the view of officials from both major political parties, Republicans may be risking the same kind of electoral backlash Democrats suffered after they were perceived as overreaching.
Public surveys suggest that most voters do not share the Republicans’ fervor for the deep cuts adopted by the House, or for drastically slashing the power of public-sector unions. And independent voters have historically been averse to displays of political partisanship that have been played out over the last week.
“If Republicans push too far and overreach their mandate, they will be punished by independent voters, just as they were in 1996,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist who was a senior adviser to President George W. Bush. “Voters said they wanted bold action. They are getting bold action. But Republicans need to be constantly reminded that the last election was a referendum for change, not a referendum for the G.O.P.”
Mr. McKinnon said that although Mr. Obama had claimed a mandate after his election, it turned out to be exaggerated, The president had paid a price for it, he said, and was adjusting.
Russ Feingold, the Democratic senator from Wisconsin who was turned out of office in the Republican sweep last year, said the new crop of Republicans was drawing false conclusions from the party’s victory.
“They are taking some kind of public expression of deep concern about the economy and turning it into something entirely different,” Mr. Feingold said. “They are making a mistake. They say: ‘Well, we won the election. Elections have consequences.’ And I say, yes, and we are going to have another election next year.”
What we are really seeing here is a failure for both extremes.
When the Democrats took control of the White House and Congress I recall writing a post warning that the Democrats would again become a minority party if they were to overreach. Looking back at the 2010 election, this should be updated to add the Democrats were also at risk of losing if the Republicans could create a false perception of Democratic overreach. I am glad to see that the article describes the problem of as “Democrats suffered after they were perceived as overreaching” as opposed to actual overreaching.
The Democrats took a centrist course but failed miserably in explaining their actions, once again allowing the Republicans to define them and create a false perception of a move to the far left and overreaching. In addition, Obama did make one serious mistake in reversing his campaign position against the individual mandate. This allowed Republicans (who initially supported the mandate) to oppose health care reform as something being imposed upon Americans by big government as opposed to a case of government stepping in to provide help to those who need it when the market has failed.
Frank Rich is right that those on the far right are losing because, fortunately, many conservatives out in the real world don’t support the extremism and know-nothing philosophy of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party. Many on the left are also making a mistake when they see any support by Barack Obama or other Democrats for fiscal responsibility as giving in to right wing frames and a victory for the Tea Party.
Cutting the deficit is important in the long run. Republicans were wrong during the Bush years when they argued that deficits don’t matter, and exploded the deficit by fighting two wars off the books while cutting taxes primarily for the ultra-wealthy. It is far better to point out how Republican policies are responsible for the deficit than to shy away from any discussion of cutting the deficit. Rather than avoid the discussion, Democrats must point out that some deficit spending is beneficial, such as Obama’s stimulus which kept us out of a depression. Democrats must also continue to point out how cutting taxes for the ultra-wealthy and spending on Bush’s wars has done far more to increase the deficit than Democratic spending.
Some on the left want to avoid any use of “conservative frames,” but in doing so they actually hurt the left. When they refuse to mention anything discussed by conservatives, they allow conservatives to take credit for positions they do not actually promote. As a result we have conservatives claiming to be champions of freedom and capitalism, despite the reality that they really support more government intrusion in the lives of individuals and confuse plutocracy for capitalism.
This mistaken view that the left must avoid any conservative frames leads to many of the attacks on Barack Obama from the left. Obama, while certainly not always perfect, at least understands that the way to win a majority is to demonstrate to rational conservatives that the economic policies they desire can better be delivered by his administration than by the extreme right. Those who oppose Obama’s attempts to appeal to conservatives argue that this has not led to any support from Congressional Republicans. This is correct but misses the point. The real target is not Congressional Republicans, who care more about denying Democrats any victories for political reasons than they care about any specific issues, or the good of the country. The target is the more rational voters who might have voted Republican in many of the recent elections but who are not totally brainwashed by the right wing noise machine. Attracting these voters, along with independents, explains why Obama’s popularity has consistently been higher than that of Congress, and is now moving upward. It might also explain why some are turning off Glenn Beck.