The Democrats have more political power than they have had at any time since the presidency of LBJ. They control the presidency, have a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (counting independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, who caucus with them), and have an 81-seat margin in the House.
The Democrats have the power to advance their agenda without a single Republican vote in Congress. But in a remarkably rapid political freefall, the Democrats, but one year after their great triumph in November 2008, are now facing an angry, pessimistic electorate. There is a strong anti-incumbent mood, and the list of endangered Democratic-held seats in the House and Senate grows each week.
The president’s approval numbers have dropped 20 points in nine months and only a third of the electorate think the country is now headed in the right direction. The Obama “hope and change message,” rapturously conveyed by an adoring lapdog media during the campaign and in the first few months of his presidency, looks as if it has the staying power of a one-night stand with the electorate. Unemployment, the single most important concern of Americans in nearly every survey, now exceeds 10%, despite assurances from the president and leaders in Congress that the $787 billion stimulus package would keep the unemployment rate from going higher than 8%.
As the unemployment rate rises and the number of unemployed grows (now over 15 million), the administration trots out the president and his spokespeople each month to provide ever higher and less believable numbers of jobs saved or created by the stimulus package.
A tiny portion of the stimulus money was directed at infrastructure spending, but it did not address the areas of the economy where unemployment was highest. In China, almost all the stimulus spending was on infrastructure investments, and their economy is booming again. The Obama stimulus included large dollops of cash directed to reward the left-wing special interest groups that had helped elect the Democrats. Much of that federal largess also went to support bloated state and local governments whose costs have been driven up by the municipal unions who control them and, significantly, are a key to electing Democrats.
It is not coincidental that Andy Stern (head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), an aggressive labor group that provided manpower and $60 million to the 2008 campaign) has had over 20 visits to the White House in nine months. Stern’s often raucously behaved troops are needed to do the community organizing for health care reform and other parts of the “progressive” agenda.
For General Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s appointed commander of the Afghanistan campaign, the president was able to find all of 20 minutes for a meeting on his way home from his failed bid for the Chicago Olympics. Three months after he started his review of the Afghanistan operation, the president is now calling for new options for his consideration.
Democrats are now in danger of losing Senate seats in Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Arkansas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Republicans now lead (narrowly in some cases) in open seat races where a GOP member is retiring in Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, and New Hampshire — all considered highly vulnerable to a party switch to the Democrats a few months back. The Republican is leading even in Missouri, another open seat, where McCain managed a narrow victory in 2008.
After losing all the close Senate races in the 2006 and 2008 cycles (Missouri, Montana, Virginia, Alaska, Minnesota, and Oregon), a bit of luck could bring the GOP to near parity in the Senate after 2010.