Belmont Club

Mene, Mene, Tekel u-Pharsin

In old Soviet Union things got better each year until the whole edifice suddenly collapsed. The characteristic of managed news is that events never approach with the slowness of a ship making its appearance in the offing. Rather they materialize with the suddeness of a vessel that has risen from the depths and is firing broadside after broadside at you like the Flying Dutchman in Pirates of the Caribbean. This must have been the impression conveyed by Robert Gibbs when he predicted that Democrats might lose the House in November.

“I think I did what is maybe uncommon in this town,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “I opened my mouth and stated the obvious.”

‘Whaaat?’ or is it ‘Why only now?’ Gibbs was immediately at daggers drawn with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The speaker said:

“How could [Gibbs] know what is going on in our districts?” Pelosi told her members in the caucus meeting in the basement of the Capitol Tuesday night. “Some may weigh his words more than others. We have made our disagreement known to the White House.”

How could Gibbs know? Maybe because he reads the polls. Apart from the Washington Post-ABC News poll showing the President’s popularity heading on a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the Financial Times now reports that President Obama faces a “growing credibility crisis”. That phrase if it means anything, suggests that his rank and file have lost confidence in his ability to lead them to victory.

“If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” says Bill Galston, a former Clinton official, who has been predicting for months the Democrats could lose the House. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

The direction of the data could hardly be worse. According to Democracy Corps, a group headed by Stanley Greenberg, a liberal pollster who is a close friend of Rahm Emanuel, Mr Obama’s chief of staff, a majority of US citizens see Mr Obama as “too liberal”.

Astonishingly, 55 per cent of citizens think Mr Obama is a “socialist” against only 39 per cent who do not share that diagnosis. The same poll shows 48 per cent support for Republicans against just 42 per cent for Democrats. The numbers are eerily similar to 2006, except that it was George W. Bush’s Republicans who were on the receiving end four years ago.

“The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership,” says Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton official and a supporter of Mr Obama. “He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.”

Galston and Greenberg should be glad they’re civilians. Stanley McChrystal said the same thing about the President’s military prowess and look where it got him. None of this is news to those following events but its sudden debut on prime time MSM, which had until recently been minimizing and pooh-pooing the President’s woes, may be the story itself. The President’s troops are looking for a way out electoral annihilation and the only way they can obtain room to maneuver is to get the attention of the golfing leader of the political armies. Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post suggests the headlines open the floodgates on a long suppressed debate that is about to begin. In the words of Mao, now is the time to “let a hundred flowers bloom and let a thousand schools of thought contend”. They’re going to need it to figure a way out of the tailspin they’re in. Cillizza writes:

Now, Democrats are being forced into a process conversation about whether or not their majority is in jeopardy — a conversation that the House leadership did their damnedest to avoid by adopting a concerted strategy not to mention publicly the idea that control was at stake in the fall.

The counter-argument — and, yes, this is politics so there is always a counter argument — is that in acknowledging that the House could switch control effectively set the stakes for voters this fall.

‘We are flanked! We are f***ed!’ Now the dam has burst and the knives have come out, as Gibbs has already discovered to his cost. Nancy Pelosi is out with the sealant but it may too late. What the Democrat strategists fear is that the cracks in the wall may widen to the point where panic becomes general.

“The White House waving the white flag creates panic,” said a senior House Democratic aide. …

One senior House strategist said that the timing of the comments could not have been worse as the third fundraising quarter, which spans from July 1 to Sept. 30, is the most critical of the year since media buys — typically the costliest part of any campaign — are made during this time. “The NRCC was struggling to raise enough money,” said the source. “This is not a mistake we needed now.” …

No indeed. Especially not when the filing deadlines have passed. As Cillizza notes “any House Democrat edgy about whether or not to seek re-election — with VERY few exceptions — can’t back out now even if he or she wanted to.” Translation: any Democrat who has invested millions in his/her re-election should be prepared to kiss that bundle goodbye because if even the White House doesn’t think they can win, who will? They should have made the mistake sooner, when there was still time to chicken out of running.

But maybe that’s the wrong perspective. A lot of Democrats who are now staring political death in the face may now be asking themselves what has changed since they were re-elected last. Who brought this pox upon their houses? The right answer would be the political and economic environment. But the obvious answer would be Barack Obama. He’s the obvious patsy. He’s what changed since last.  As the President’s unpopularity bears down on his supporters like the albatross around the Ancient Mariner, the temptation to survive at his expense may easily infect a group of people who were opportunists to begin with. The President and Nancy Pelosi know exactly how steadfast and principled their minions are.  The thought of their principled followers sacrificing themselves to Hope and Change will doubtless assure them in the nights to come.  But if I were the President, in spite of the assurances of Nancy Pelosi, I wouldn’t count on it.

And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians

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