Are Democrats Ready for 2012?

by George Kennedy on September 17, 2011


Are Democrats Ready for 2012?

Like many of you, I am trying to wrap my head around the specter of the 2012 elections and it is tough on a good day but truly exasperating most of the time. Think about it. Is it possible that a Republican Party that brought us the worst recession in over 70 years, (two unfunded wars, two unfunded tax cuts and the rest of the litany of excesses of the Bush Administration) is poised to recapture the White House in just 14 months?

During the interim period, we could debate this possible outcome ad nauseum without agreement, but the prospect of a Republican president drawn from the current crop of candidates should bring pause to even the most rabid Tea Partyer because they know not what they seek. “As many Republicans say they are more likely to vote for Perry for president because of his views on Social Security as say they are less likely,” according to a new gallup poll. They are pawns in a high stakes game of raw power politics and they, too, will suffer buyers’ remorse. By then, the Republicans will have begun to eat what’s left of middle-and working-class lunch, including that of the Tea Partyers among them.

Here is what really exasperates me. Republicans are playing an aggressive front court game writing the rules as they play with no effective push back from the Democrats. At least none that tells me they are in the game. You have to hand it to the Republicans. Their current war on the Democratic voter was brilliantly masterminded with superb generalship at the state level. Breaking precedent only emboldens them so why not tinker with the Electoral College in a pivotal state like Pennsylvania to deny Obama a victory should he capture the popular vote? Their proposed plan “would end the state’s winner-take-all system for electoral votes, replacing it with a system that awards candidates votes based on the results of each congressional district. The statewide winner would garner an additional two votes.” This maneuver is not illegal, therefore fair game.

Why is that Republican antics make news but there is no corollary reporting on strong Democratic push-back? Who is it that we elect to keep watch? There are myriad reasons the Democratic base is in a sullen mood about their leadership and therefore do not match the enthusiasm for victory of the Republican voter. Is it that the Democrats we elect to lead keep their convictions close to the chest to avoid offense? Or to appear partisan (can’t have that!) They just stole your lunch but it is preferable to go hungry rather than confront the thief. I don’t know, I’m just asking.

Democrats rail against effete Democratic leadership, signal their policy preferences in polling results (no to changing Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. Yes to more revenues.), and retreat to hope. Republicans make no pretense regarding their values and their priorities. They stoke fear and confusion and division; distort, lie, and hold the country hostage. Their reward: a Republican voter that is a believer, a disciple, an acolyte for the Republican brand that asks few hard questions and votes. So we have hope versus vote. Republicans will voice their displeasure with the current president and his handling of the economy by going to the polls and vote. Is the Democratic leadership ready for 2012?

It gets better. Democratic voters are slightly schizophrenic. They fail to turn up at the polls to signal their displeasure (2010 elections) or, they will go to the polls to vote counter-intuitively for the opposition to make a political point (NY-9th). A recent poll reflected that 46 percent of independents said they definitely will not vote to re-elect the president. I understand their sentiment but to say, “definitely will not.” That is a warning shot across the White House bow even 14 months from the elections. In 2012, would those same respondents be willing to embrace a Republican Party that rejects compassion for others and government disposed to provide shelter (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) from some of the hazards of life. Is this the America they have known or would want to live in now?

From where I sit, the determinative factor in voters’ decisions today in response to poll questions should be the state of the economy. But it obviously is not. Again, the results of the latest elections in NY 9th to fill the vacant seat of disgraced Democrat Anthony Weiner.

The president is finally on the offensive touting his jobs plan. Aspects of it are unsettling to some Democrats in the Senate (Senators Landrieu, D-La., Harry Reid, D-Nev., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Mancin, D-WV.) but Sen. Durbin, D-Il says it will be passed because the president wants it. Thank you, Senator Durbin. The House Republicans, still smarting from constituent anger in home districts, will pass enough of the jobs plan to avoid being labeled obstructionist. So they don’t get 98 percent of what they wanted this time, but I don’t see that some level of compromise with the president and the Democrats will diminish their appetite for the campaign ahead. If anything, it might only increase it.

Democrats and their leadership need to decide yesterday if they want to suit up for 2012. Republicans are mobilized at the local, state, and national level and they have their game faces on. To cut through the confusion fear, and disappointment many Democrats feel, they must develop a counter-narrative to the Republicans austerity program. Americans need Democrats to step up now, provide persuasive evidence of what they have done legislatively (the Stimulus Bill, Health care), and for the president to lead them.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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