The question that Democrats should be asking themselves is, “Why can’t they handle midterm elections?”
Democrats are facing their worst electoral blow-out in 16 years. But, in truth, there is no reason in the world why 2010 has to be a re-run of 1994 — except that they once again have totally lost control of the message and political narrative.
Why do Democrats craft inspiring messages of hope and renewal in big presidential years like 1992 and 2008 only to lose their touch, and their tongues, just two years later?
Even 2006, the year Democrats retook control of Congress, had much more to do with widespread and deep dissatisfaction with George W. Bush than with any Democratic skill.
Republicans, obviously, blame the policies for the Democrats’ reversals. They condemned Bill Clinton’s “lurch to the left” 16 years ago just as they attack Barack Obama’s “socialism” today.
But that’s no more true today than it was 16 years ago. Newt Gingrich and his fellow Republicans over-read the results of the 1994 election, and in their overreach, handed Clinton his keys to re-election.
And polls this year indicate that Americans continue to support overall Democratic priorities, such as a majority who agree that the federal government should be spending to help create jobs instead of focusing primarily on deficit reduction. Some 60 percent specifically supported a recent bill that provides federal assistance to state governments to prevent layoffs of teachers and others nationwide.
Americans also still blame Republicans more than Democrats for the current economic mess.
So despite what tea-party types and others say, if Republicans aren’t winning on the merits, why are Democrats in so much trouble?
Because Democrats and their allies simply have not kept up with the right-wing in terms of the national megaphone.
Yes, yes, you can point to an Obama town hall here, or a progressive talk show host there making good sense. But they are getting drowned out in the aggregate, especially because Democrats continue to speak primarily on an intellectual, not emotional, level.
Republicans have become successful because, even if what they say is nonsense, they on some level simply are connecting on an emotional level with the deep anxiety and anger that most Americans feel.
Democrats must start communicating at the same gut level.
The good news is that if they try, Democrats are more than capable.
Even Obama, who many Americans apparently see as too cerebral, still is more than capable of landing a few zingers, such as when he attacks Republicans with this line, “If you have a car and you want to go forward, what do you do? You put it in ‘D,'” Obama says to laughter. “When you want to go backwards, what do you do? You put it in ‘R.’ I’m just saying. That’s no coincidence. We are not going to give them the keys back.”
It’s funny, it’s memorable, and it fits. It’s just the the kind of gut-level argument that Democrats need to start throwing out there.
So why haven’t most Americans heard Obama say it? Why is it confined only to preaching-to-the-choir speeches that the president makes at Democratic fundraisers?
If there is a smart Democratic ad man or ad woman still out there, he or she would not only produce an ad which shows Obama delivering the line, they would make ads with many popular Democrats saying it too, and then buy enough air time to run the spots over and over again through November.
Make Americans remember why they trusted Democrats in the first place.
Clinton, you recall, was at his best when he told you that he “felt your pain.”
Democrats would be wise to remind Americans that they still do.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Democrats Shouldn’t Lose This Election on Blogcritics.