The news that Ohio voters resoundingly defeated Senate Bill 5, and in so doing dealt a serious blow to Republican Governor John Kasich’s plans to ostensibly destroy the unions in that state, should be celebrated by every progressive not just in Ohio but across the country. This was a good day no matter how you sliced it and diced it. Also encouraging was the news out of Maine that voters in that state overturned a law that banned same-day voter registration, a law which had only one purpose: suppressing Democratic turnout. In Mississippi voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that not only would’ve outlawed abortion – even in the case of rape and incest – it would’ve defined human life as beginning from the moment of fertilization. And in Arizona, voters recalled that state’s immigration law architect, Russell Pearce. A grand slam you could say.
But, as they say at the racetrack, hold onto your tickets, boys, this race ain’t over; not by a long shot. Yes what happened in Ohio and Maine and Mississippi and Arizona was certainly uplifting and gratifying, given how dismal Democratic fortunes have looked over the last year, but a closer look at what happened reveals not so much a leftward shift among the electorate but rather a repudiation of a poorly played hand by Republicans. In each and every loss suffered by the GOP, voters expressed a profound disapproval over what they perceived as an ideological distraction from the number one objective they had voted for in 2010: Jobs, jobs, jobs. Issues like collective bargaining, voter registration, abortion and illegal immigration, while fodder for the Right, were considered inconsequential to millions of independents and moderates, and they voted accordingly.
But no matter how tempting it may be for the Left to pound its chest and beat the drums of victory, the painful truth is that Democrats in general still have an uphill battle on their hands when it comes to convincing a majority of voters that they have the answers to what ails the economy. The Republican gains in Virginia, a crucial swing state in 2012, underscores this point all too well. There were no controversial and ideological-driven initiatives on the ballot in that state. Rather it was a straight up and down referendum on whose vision voters preferred to run the state. And if Virginia was a litmus test for their fortunes going forward, I’d be very worried if I were a Democrat.
Translation? Crazy got shown the door, but the Landlord still hasn’t seen fit to hand over the keys to the other tenants. And that adds up to a major problem come November 2012. I have been saying this now for months. Democrats need to get up off their butts and start building a sellable narrative to the electorate that doesn’t start and end with the other side being insane.
Consider the facts. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, with little prospect of it coming down over the next year or so. Indeed, the Fed recently downgraded its economic forecast for 2012. Growth projections will remain anemic for the foreseeable future. We may not be headed into a double-dip recession, but it will take several years before anything resembling a full recovery occurs.
No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been reelected with such poor numbers. Poll after poll over the last few months has shown definitively that voters are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the direction the country is headed in. With the exception of a temporary bump in the wake of the bin Laden killing, President Obama’s approval rating has been south of 50% for well over a year now.
And yet, even with such woeful numbers, Democrats will proudly remind you that their guy is beating all the other Republican candidates by anywhere from 5% (Romney) to 15% (Cain). And while that may comfort a good many of them, the truth is that those numbers do NOT represent an endorsement of Obama but rather a concern – particularly among independents – that the current crop of GOP contenders has not made the case for change. And not only that, it has demonstrated some rather “interesting” idiosyncrasies that are most disturbing to them. Want proof? The Republican with the least amount of baggage – Romney – is the one closest to beating Obama. If between now and next fall the GOP manages to dress up this turkey-shoot enough to make it look respectable to the electorate this is going to be a very difficult presidential election to watch for Democrats.
The good news is that, for now at least, the Republican Party seems hopelessly caught in the grips of an ideological wave hell-bent on remaking the country in its own twisted image; the bad news is that for every John Kasich, there is a Bob McDonnell. If history is any indication, sooner or later the Bob McDonnells will prevail. Democrats had best accept this or they stand to lose a lot more than just the next election.