I don't think that it is too hard to figure out. They put their ideological agenda ahead of the national agenda. It was foolish to run with cap and trade as the first piece of legislation. Then, when they addressed health care, which is on both the Democrats' ideological agenda and the national agenda, they became ensnarled in the ideological issue of a government health care plan. The liberals who dominate the party drew a line in the dirt, and they are paying the political price for it. The first priority should have been "it's the economy, stupid," but, oh, no, the Democrats had an it's-our-turn-now attitude, and they are quickly finding out that their safe majorities in Congress may not be safe and that their turn may not last very long.
Who are the independents? I don't know if there are a lot of true independents, that is, people who have no political allegiances. Most are fickle voters who embraced the flavor of the month and then become disillusioned. The Republicans are still arguing about whether they lost adherents because they were too wrapped up in the social issues, or because they strayed from fiscal conservatism. The answer is both. Will they learn anything from what the Democrats are going through? I doubt it. Did the Democrats learn anything from what the Republicans went through? Apparently not.
There must be a greed gene among politicians. No sooner had the Democrats won in '08 than they were talking about a Rooseveltian-style transformation of American politics that would last for a generation. Hello? Does anyone remember Karl Rove and his plan for a permanent Republican majority? How did that work out?
The Politico story quotes Pat Waak, the chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party, as saying that the party had so far failed to convince independent voters of the steps it had taken to improve the economy.
“I think the economy is at the base of the tension,” she said. “Quite frankly, we’ve got to do a better job of messaging. There’s a lot of work to be done to get independents more comfortable with what we’re doing.”
How is this for not getting it? The problem is ... messaging. People aren't stupid. They know whether they are better off or worse off since Obama became president. They have a general idea of whether homes in their neighborhood are selling, or whether the malls are filled with shoppers. I've heard stories about high-end developments in Dallas that are empty, dead spaces, where you camp in a traffic lane with no fear of being hit by a car.
The biggest failing of the Democrats, of course, is that they have lost the hard-won mantle of fiscal conservatism that they so recently snatched from the Republicans. As I have written previously, my sense is that most independents are former Republicans who grew disillusioned during the Bush years. What they care about the most is fiscal conservatism. The Democrats have shown that they aren't going to practice it, and the indies are returning to the Republicans.
Here's the messaging that I think Obama ought to pursue:
We are starting over. We are going to make the economy our first priority. We are going to put health care and cap and trade and other legislation aside until the economy is back on a firm footing. We are going to cut income taxes by 10 percent. The government must share the pain of the American people.
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