At Wednesday’s press conference, President Obama made his position very clear: despite the electoral whacking his party took in the midterm elections, he will do all he can to continue with his agenda, using executive action where he can to advance it. Two Washington Post reporters explain Obama’s position:
Despite his nod to shared responsibility, however, Obama sounded less introspective and remorseful in the wake of the Democrats’ resounding midterm election defeat this year than he did four years ago, when he described the outcome as a “shellacking” for Democrats. The president noted that two-thirds of those eligible did not vote Tuesday, suggesting the lack of a broad GOP mandate, and he reminded reporters that the policies he has championed, including an increase in the minimum wage, were endorsed by voters in a number of states.
Liberal columnist and Obama supporter Dana Milbank wrote:
A dismissive shrug is inappropriate. … [The election] went in one presidential ear and out the other. … [W]hen Obama fielded questions for an hour Wednesday afternoon, he spoke as if Tuesday had been but a minor irritation. He announced no changes in staff or policy, acknowledged no fault or error and expressed no contrition or regret.
Consider the contrast with Bill Clinton. After Democrats received a similar beating in 1994, which Newt Gingrich and others referred to as a “Republican revolution,” President Clinton took responsibility himself and quickly moved to the center. He hired Dick Morris as his political advisor, and worked with Republicans for trade agreements and — most importantly — welfare reform. Without Republican votes, neither of these would have been able to pass Congress.
And as Milbank notes, when President George W. Bush found his party skewered in the midterms, he fired Donald Rumsfeld and changed his Iraq policy.
Clearly, the vote reflects the unhappiness Americans have with the Democrats’ handling of the economy. Some on the left, like columnist Harold Meyerson, admit that the Democrats “did not deliver broadly shared prosperity as they used to.” He continues:
Even in the people’s republic of Vermont, the incumbent Democratic governor won so narrowly that the race will be tossed to the legislature (as Vermont law requires when no gubernatorial candidate breaks 50 percent).
Others on the Left are not so willing to take any part of the blame. Rather, they call for Obama to double down. In The Nation, editor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel provides a guide for the president:
The Obama administration should act right away to use its executive powers to take steps to deal with long-ignored issues that need to be dealt with for the good of the nation.
This cannot be done quietly. To change the media narrative, issues acted upon will have to be controversial enough to dominate the news. President Obama should embrace good progressive public policy while expecting — indeed, hoping for — a massive outcry from the wing-nut section of the GOP.
Note her juxtaposition: what she favors is “good progressive policy,” and what Republicans present as an alternative are simply “wing-nut” ideas. Keep in mind vanden Heuvel’s concrete suggestions as we see what Obama moves to implement next. We know what he is pledged to do about immigration. Will he support her proposal to “cancel the Keystone XL pipeline,” giving the leftist environmentalists what they want while standing against the very AFL-CIO unions that support the pipeline and worked hard for his re-election?
In The Daily Beast, left-wing columnist Michael Tomasky acknowledged that his side can no longer use the argument that the people are voting against their own interests, as expressed by Thomas Frank in his best-selling book What’s the Matter with Kansas?. Tomasky shrewdly notes:
People don’t vote against their interests. They vote for their interests as they see them. And right now, working-class and blue-collar whites think the Democratic Party is just implacably against them.
What he does not accept, however, is that those voters’ understanding of the situation is correct.
While workers as well as businessmen want the Keystone XL pipeline to pass, only left-wing activists oppose it, as well as developments like fracking that help us become energy efficient and less reliant on oil from the Middle East. Tomasky, of course, will not accept that. His explanation for why the Republicans won is something different: the Democrats simply don’t explain well enough to these voters how “they’re on their side.”
At least he doesn’t share vanden Heuvel’s optimism about the path Obama should take:
He’s done as far as any new initiatives are concerned. He probably can’t do this immigration reform-by-fiat now. They’ll impeach him for sure. All he can do now is try to protect health care and try to make this ISIS war work.
Finally, university professor and left-wing activist Peter Dreier, writing on Bill Moyers’ website, posits that the elections don’t mean what the entire nation knows they mean:
Tuesday’s Republican wave of election victories did not reflect public opinion or the public mood. Instead it was the result of the GOP’s triumph in changing the rules of democracy to favor big business and conservative interest groups, including the triumphs of corporate money and voter suppression.
Nothing, of course, of all the Wall Street and Hollywood money going to Democrats, as well as policies aimed at the special interest groups that are the core of the Democratic Party. Despite all the efforts of the AFL-CIO, the teachers; unions, and SEIU, Scott Walker won in Wisconsin. All the claims that these same people supported a higher minimum wage, a soda tax, and legalization of pot do not prove, as Dreier thinks, that the left is winning America’s soul.
As we move to 2016, when the stakes will be even higher, the only question is whether or not Republicans will blow it. The ball is entirely in their court.