I’ve posted this several times but and it still goes to the heart of what didn’t happen that should have in 2009. From Rick Perlstein, Rules of Liberal Political Success.
(Taken from his talk “Whatever Happened to Hope: Why Barack Obama Cannot Become a Transformational President”)
Got to make people feel good.
No liberal regime has ever succeeded in American History without successfully stigmatizing the conservatism that preceded it as a failure that ruined ordinary people’s lives.
A transformational Democratic president must be a credible defender of the economic interests of ordinary Americans to a preponderance of those ordinary Americans sufficient to push through their distrust of cosmopolitan liberals as such. (Anti Big Business Populism).
No liberal regime has ever succeeded in American History without successfully stigmatizing it’s opposition as extreme, as alien, as strange, as frightening to ordinary Americans who want order in their lives.
From the beginning economic crash of 2008 it should have been referred to by every Democrat, always and forever, as the Bush Recession. That’s damn sure what the GOP would have done.
That’s the point of Rick Perlstein’s post-mortem on the Wisconsin recall, How Republicans Cheat Democrats – and Democrats Cheat Themselves.
Well, at a certain point in these “How is it possible?” discussions, you have to get down to the nut cutting: Republicans win because Republcians cheat. They cheat in each and every election, systematically and predictably. They crap out last-minute turnout-killing lies: in this last, for instance, that people who signed recall petitions automatically had their vote recorded against Walker and so didn’t have to go to the polls; and in 2006, in at least fifty different congressional races, an overwhelming volume of calls that appeared to be from the Democratic candidate, dozens in a row, designed to so anger potential Democratic voters that they’d stay home from the polls.
They render Democratic phone lines useless: In 2006, pundette Laura Ingraham did it by telling her radio listeners to deluge a voter protection hotline with calls; this last week by blasting out text messages inviting the same for Tom Barrett’s campaign headquarters. They intimidate voters on Election Day in minority precincts, wearing scary uniforms and warning those with outstanding warrants to stay away if they don’t want to be arrested. They push out horror-show media – like the Scott Walker TV commercial with the baby who was beaten to death, a crime somehow laid at Tom Barrett’s feet; or the mailers the Republican National Committee sent out in 2004 to Arkansans and West Virignias that the Bible would be “banned” if “you don’t vote.” More prosaically, they retail statistical lies: in 2000, that Bush’s proposed tax cuts would not predominantly benefit the rich; last Tuesday, that the federal government said Wisconsin added 30,000 jobs.
This kind of stuff doesn’t really get reported, or noticed: it happens too late to get into the news before the polls open (that’s the point of the tactics), and then, once the polls close, all the media oxygen is taken up with horse-race stuff (the bad guys know that too). Bringing this stuff up also violates a sort of unspoken faux-macho journalist code: “That’s politics,” they say; “both sides do it” (they don’t); and if the victimized campaign brings it up, they’re just whining. The bad guys work with this bias very effectively, for instance keeping a handy mental file of isolated, occasional Democratic abuses – the one incident you hear about over and over was the tire-slashing of Republican get-out-the-vote vehicles in Milwaukee eight years ago, for which four Democratic campaign workers including the son of a congresswoman went to jail – to feed journalists’ both-sides-do-it brain-deadedness.
Someday, some clever political scientist might figure out a way to quantify just how many points on election day Democrats have to make up to bring things to square. Until that point – or probably even after that point – we can expect the usual Wednesday morning diet of earnest reflections on what the polling just past “says” about the electorate. Republicans will keep pushing, pushing, pushing their vision for what kind of world they want to live in – union and public-employee free. Democrats, free of any particular vision for society at all, will go into “battle” retailing themselves as the nicer fellows in the contest, and earnestly hope the electorate goes along.
The answer is not for Democrats to cheat. But it begins with the Democratic establishment doing business in a way that doesn’t make their most devoted partisans feel like slapping them upside the head.
Politics ain’t bean bag, it’s often said. The GOP knows that and too often it seems like the Democrats don’t. Obama blames too much on Congress, and never the GOP obstructionists – like Boehner, McConnell, and Cantor – in Congress that are keeping the economy from recovering from the Bush Recession. What Perlstein meant by the “Rules..” above is that Obama needed to show the country that the GOP caused the problem and was holding back progress….from day one!
Once the “bad guy(s)”, so to speak, were defined, then Obama could have been the “good guy” working to help the people. Instead he let the GOP turn him into the bad guy and he’s been struggling to get back to sea level ever since.
Obama can still fix this issue but he needs to get started now. A recent report shows that, Shifting the Economic Narrative.
It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong, and that will fail. The voters are very sophisticated about the character of the economy; they know who is mainly responsible for what went wrong and they are hungry to hear the President talk about the future. They know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle – and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool’s errand. They want to know the plans for making things better in a serious way – not just focused on finishing up the work of the recovery.
We are losing these voters on the economy, but holding on because Romney is very vulnerable. They do not trust him because of who he is for and because he’s out of touch with ordinary people; he is vulnerable on the Ryan budget and its impact on people; he is vulnerable on the choices over taxes. But in the current context, it produces a fairly diminished embrace of Obama and the Democrats, the lesser of two evils, without much feeling of hope.
But we underscore the sentiment they expressed in the postcards to the President they wrote at the end of the exercise: overwhelmingly, these voters want to know that he understands the struggle of working families and has plans to make things better.
And this analysis from David Atkins is exactly right, Changing the narrative.
I found the exact same thing in the few focus groups I’ve conducted on the subject as well, and polling backs it up. Voters know that George Bush and Wall Street are to blame for the economic downturn. They know that things are bad, the economy is fundamentally broken and that it’s not going to get better on its own. But unless Democrats are willing and able to come out and make the case for exactly what went wrong and how they plan to fix it, voters will not return them to power in significant numbers or at all. Progressives will stay home, and moderates will vote for Romney just to shake things up.
Protesting loudly about all the direct action the President has taken won’t do much good. The President has done many things: he saved the American auto industry in a very risky political gamble, and he did get a major stimulus passed, inadequate and tax-cut heavy as it was. But he’s not getting credit for it partly because it hasn’t been enough, partly because it hasn’t been visible enough, and partly because he has been unable or unwilling to provide a narrative explaining exactly why the economy is still struggling.
Any good story requires a villain. The Republicans are willing to provide that villain in the form of a spectral combination of deficits, bureaucrats and welfare moochers. It’s bullshit, but it will work in the absence of a countervailing narrative.
As Digby has written before, the Obama Administration has been unwilling to provide that counternarrative because 1) it can’t afford to upset the Wall Street donor base, and 2) the Administration really believed that the economy would get better over time and that they could run a “morning in America” campaign.
This is not to say that we’re doomed to a Romney presidency. As Carville and Greenberg point out, Romney is a very weak candidate. But the inability of the Obama team to craft a coherent reason for the failure of the economy so far and a coherent direct plan for the years ahead is creating major political problem that won’t be solved even if jobs numbers do improve over the coming months.
We’re still in the Bush Recession. Obstructionist Republicans in Congress won’t let any of Obama’s plans pass, that ease the suffering of the American people, and get our country out of the Bush Recession. And if Mitt Romney is elected in November the Bush Recession will only get worse. Now if we just had a president and Democrats that would say that, from now until November, we might actually see some progress.