The Winter Of Democrat Discontent

An increasing number of Democrats are expressing unhappiness with President Obama.  The President likes to talk about “jobs saved or created,” but he lost or destroyed a remarkable number of Democrat jobs in the House of Representatives this fall.

Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill had to duck a warning shot from the Congressional Black Caucus over the weekend, as the top candidate for leadership of the Caucus warned her not to express disloyalty to the unpopular President.  “Any attempt to extricate herself from him will be an act of disloyalty,” Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo) told the McClatchy news service.  “She will not do that at all.”  Context would suggest the latter comment was more of a threat than a prediction.

McCaskill holds one of the Senate seats from Missouri, and just watched Republican Roy Blunt make himself comfortable in the other one.  Blunt won a commanding victory in the midterm elections.  McCaskill is up for re-election in 2012, and facing an electoral map that looks even worse for Democrats than 2010 did.  The Hill points out that she’s taken some “maverick” positions in the past, including a push for caps on discretionary spending, and support for earmark reform – something most Democrats had little interest in until recently, when Republicans began pushing to wipe them out altogether.

Cleaver’s warning to McCaskill is remarkable, considering she hasn’t been a particularly outspoken critic of the President.  A number of Democrats ran much harder against Obama, and the even less popular House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in the last elections, often with the tacit approval of the White House and Speaker’s office.  (A particularly colorful Democrat House candidate in Texas, Kesha Rogers, called for Obama’s impeachment.  She also said America’s greatest enemy is Imperial Britain.  She lost to Republican Pete Olson.) 

One of the reasons Democrat leadership is growing so nervous about 2012 is that everyone knows the Senate looks bad for them in the next election, and there is fear of widespread revolt against the President, especially if poll numbers suggest his unpopularity is dragging the rest of the Democrat ticket down.  If Democrats begin aggressively distancing themselves from the President, it will only make him look worse, depressing his polls further in a vicious cycle.  Party leaders need to reassure, or in McCaskill’s case menace, nervous candidates early to forestall this danger, especially since the midterm election disaster was widely seen as a referendum on Obama.

The Party might need to have a word with Pat Caddell, too.  The veteran Democrat consultant penned an op-ed in the Washington Post this weekend, along with pollster Doug Schoen, advising President Obama to declare himself a “one and done” candidate immediately, and announce he will not run for re-election in 2012.  The authors say the President has “largely lost the consent of the governed,” and should abandon his re-election hopes to avoid “two years of political gridlock, at a time when we can ill afford it.”  In other words, they want him to stop worrying about re-election so he can shove more of his sacred agenda down America’s throat. 

Of course, Caddell is much too seasoned to think this would actually happen – the immense Republican majority that just swept into the House put an end to Obama’s days of shoving anything anywhere.  Caddell and Schoen wax poetic about forming “unity” governments with Republicans and business leaders, but the sea of angry voters who pushed Republicans into the House did not send them to achieve unity with this radical President.  The increasingly radicalized base of a Democrat party that just lost most of its moderate wing doesn’t want to see that, either.  The Washington Post op-ed is an attempt to lay out a graceful path for Obama’s departure, allowing two years for a viable Hillary… er, excuse me, “candidate” – to build up strength for a 2012 run.  The authors go as far as quoting Obama’s statement that he would “rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.”  No genuine Obama supporter ever throws his own words back at him, or even remembers anything he said prior to last week.

Amusingly, Caddell and Schoen cite George Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 as an example of “scorched-earth campaigning,” when that campaign mostly consisted of conservatives accurately quoting John Kerry into oblivion.  A much better example of a divisive, scorched-earth campaign would be Bill Clinton’s desperate attempt to save himself after the Lewinsky scandal broke.  That’s the campaign that permanently divided Americans, setting the stage for the acrimonious 2000 presidential race and its bitter photo finish in Florida.  Clinton threw everything plus the kitchen sink at prosecutors and accusers, turning his personal offenses into a national political drama, and defining the “politics of personal destruction” he would go on to denounce.  That’s the model America should be nervous about Obama adopting.  A president with no record to run on is bound to make everything personal.  Early attempts to demonize John Boehner, the presumptive Republican Speaker of the House, were a laughable failure.  Now that Boehner has taken the Speaker’s office, renewed efforts are likely.

Anyone who seriously thinks Obama will declare himself a one-term President is dreaming.  He’s not going anywhere.  A primary battle against the First Black President would shatter the Democrat Party, and virtually assure Republican victory.  Obama’s ego will never allow him to step aside gracefully – he still thinks his only problem is a failure to properly explain his magnificence to dimwitted voters.  Democrats like Claire McCaskill must decide if they’re more afraid of Party leadership, or the voters.