The Enthusiasm Gap

After working for the Obama campaign a few months over the spring, before and after the April primary, I took a little break from politics to undertake other things going on in my life. However, once I finished teaching for the spring semester, I was eager to get involved with the campaign again, so last night, Jenna and I took part in a voter registration drive around Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square. I’ve worked on different presidential campaigns since 2004, and I’ve always liked the voter registration drives the best, certainly a lot more than making phone calls and knocking on doors. Voter registration draws less combative people.

As we circled the square several times yesterday with clipboards in hand, I noticed a major attitude shift compared to the 2008 campaign. Several people we encountered simply did not want to register to vote for either party or either candidate. A few people just threw their hands in the air and walked away. I assume that some of them are fed up with the gridlock between the White House and GOP-controlled House that they don’t want any part of the system. Maybe others feel like their voice doesn’t count. In 2008, though, we always had people eager to sign up to vote.

It’s quite probable that a lot of people are disappointed in the president, though none of them said so to our faces. In 2008 a lot folks, especially young people, were eager to register and vote for him. But three years later, the economy is still shaky and the president’s agenda is stalled, due to the gridlock. Maybe the enthusasm gap is partially the president’s fault for running on the lofty taglines of hope and change in 2008, but it is also naive to think that any single politician can fix anything in one term, considering how close this country came in 2008 to a total financial meltdown, before the president took the oath of office. When I watched people walk away or listened to them say they aren’t at all interested in politics, I had to keep my thoughts to myself. I wanted to shake some of these people and ask them, how can you not pay attention to anything? I’ve always had friends deeply interested in current events, and I come from a family where everyone votes in elections. Our politicians and community organizers need to do a far better job making people believe that they still do have a say, even in the age of Citizens United where corporations can donate unlimited money to candidates. I’m also a firm believer that if you are fed up, get up and do something. Run for office or get involved in your community in other ways.

Regardless of which party people vote for, I hope they get out and vote. The difference between both parties and their vision for this country hasn’t been so stark in a few decades, and this is probably going to be a razor-thin election, so yes, every vote does count, especially in swing states, which includes PA.

Yes, Obama Could Lose

In the most recent episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Maher offered an apt metaphor for the possibility that yes, Obama can lose the election. He admitted that the GOP has been ruining its brand as of late, due to the long primary battle and the fight over birth control and women’s reproductive rights, but Maher compared the GOP to a horror movie slasher that won’t die. First, the hand starts moving, and then the whole corpse  comes back to life. As Maher pointed out, the GOP will eventually ends its primary season, probably quite soon if Romney wins a majority of the states this Tuesday (a Super Tuesday race). Then, the party will coalesce around the nominee and work on defeating Obama. The Koch Brothers and other right-wing billionaires will pour millions into Super PACS to unseat the president.

Maher’s comments reminded me of friends who believe Obama will definitely win re-election.  As an Obama supporter and someone currently working with his campaign in Luzerene County, I have told friends time and time again that the president can indeed lose re-election. The GOP may be in disarray now, but they will unite to defeat him.

Even Paul Begala, a major Democratic strategist, wrote in his column in the new issue of Newsweek that this election may very well be a toss up. Begala points out that there are a few foreign policy factors that can upend the election. He cites the Iran nuclear issue and skyrocketing oil prices as two major factors, as well as uncertainty and possible conflict in Pakistan. He also envisions the GOP uniting once the primary season is over. He writes, “The GOP will unify. Where once their central organizing principle was opposing communism, now it is opposing Barack Obama. As long as he is on the ballot, the Republicans will be able to reunite. There is not much the White House can do about that. The reality is the GOP demolition derby will end soon enough, and the president will be in a neck-and-neck race all year.”

The Election is still about 8 months away, and in a lot of ways, it feels much more important than it did in 2008, due to all of the problems facing this country, including growing income inequality, high unemployment, and impending foreign policy issues. Months ago, Obama started laying the groundwork for his campaign. Even here in NEPA, an office has already opened in Scranton and one is set to open soon in Wilkes-Barre. The White House must know that the landscape this time will be different than it was in 2008 and nothing is certain, especially since the economy is still fragile and serious foreign policy challenges loom.

It makes the canvassing and voter registration drives all that more important.


The President’s New Tone

I’m taking a break from blogging about poetry/writing to address politics again. A few weeks ago, after a Republican won  a House seat in a deep blue NY district during a special election, I said here that Obama is going to have a tough time seeking re-election in 2012. As someone who worked on his campaign in 2008,  I have been disappointed in his lack of willingness to stand up to Republicans and fight for key Democratic principles. I wondered what direction the president would take heading into 2012 and whose re-election campaigns he would try to emulate. Over the last few weeks, we have started to see how he plans to run for re-election. His new tone just may rally his alienated base.

Despite being surrounded by a bunch of former Clinton advisors, Obama doesn’t seem to be following Clinton’s path to re-election from 1996. Clinton moved to the center, as opposed to the left, and pushed bills that reformed Welfare and won over more independents and even some conservatives.  Recently, Obama has channeled two other Democratic presidents more so than Bill Clinton- Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

I say Obama is channeling FDR because of his newly released jobs bill, which calls for higher taxes on the wealthy and a lot of infrastructure programs, including the creation of a high-speed rail system and the rebuilding of America’s crumbling schools.   Like FDR, Obama has been arguing lately that in times of high unemployment, the government should act and pass a jobs bill to put people back to work. FDR did this successfully through the New Deal programs. This idea is the total opposite of the current GOP platform. The Republican leadership does not believe in a comprehensive jobs bill or further stimulus spending to put people back to work. They have been pushing greater austerity measures.

It has yet to be seen if Obama’s job bill will pass the GOP-controlled House. Republicans don’t seem likely to hand Obama a victory,even if parts of his job bill are popular with the public.  Still, though, the president has been pushing the jobs bill day in and day out, and while doing so, he’s been channeling another Democratic president– Harry Truman. When Truman was re-elected, he ran against a very unpopular Congress. As I said in a previous post, Obama’s job performance numbers are low,  in the 40s, but Congress’ overall approval number is even lower, historic lows. Some polls have Congress at 19 percent approval; other polls have Congress at 22 or 23 percent approval.  Obama knows this, and he’s taken the gloves off to go on the offensive against GOP leadership in the House and Senate. He’ s also been pushing the plan in the districts of his opposition. He did a speech last week at a bridge in Ohio that links the Congressional district of House speaker John Boehner with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky. The president slammed both leaders for the gridlock in Washington.

The president has also been quicker to counter GOP attacks. When he stated recently he wants a higher tax rate for millionaires, GOP leadership cried class warfare. Obama countered that it’s not class warfare, just simple math.

Obama’s new populist tone should rally his base. This is the president  a lot of supporters thought they voted for in 2008, someone willing to stand up for the middle class and jumpstart the economy.  Still, though, Obama is going to face daunting unemployment numbers heading into 2012 and skepticism by some voters that he can fix the economy. It’s not likely the unemployment  number of 9.1 percent will come down much between now and next November, and even if parts of the jobs bill pass Congress, their effects on unemployment may take time.  But if Obama runs against the unpopular Congress, continues his populist tone, and points out how  far to the right the current GOP presidential candidates are, he does have a better chance of winning a second term.

Preview of 2012?

I’m taking a break from blogging about poetry  to write about politics. Last night, a  special election was held in New York State’s 9th District to replace disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner, who had to resign over a sex scandal. Months ago, Dems thought for sure they’d keep the seat. After all, Dems have kept that seat for nearly a century, and it’s in a deep blue district, mostly in Queens and the Bronx. But last night, Republican Bob Turner defeated Democrat David Weprin. As soon as victory was declared, Turner said that this message will resound all year and into the presidential election in 2012.

Most mainstream papers/websites are saying that this GOP upset is  referendum against Obama. A lot of Obama supporters still think he’s going to win, especially since the GOP has moved so far to the right. However, it’s clear Obama is not going to win as easily as he did in 2008, due to the economy. Even officials in his administration don’t believe the economy will improve much between now and next November. Right now, unemployment is at about 9 percent, and in August, there was not a net gain of jobs. It seems the economy has stalled. The last president to win re-election with unemployment this high was FDR, and frankly, FDR was a lot more popular than Obama is. FDR had a larger vision for economic recovery through the New Deal programs, and he had more fire in the belly, a willingness to take on the GOP and big business. So far, Obama hasn’t really demonstrated that, thus alienating much of his core base.

This election should also worry Democrats because it served as a first test of one of the party’s key election strategies for 2012. Back in the spring, the GOP voted in the House and Senate for Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, which would basically end Medicare and Social Security as we know it– programs most Americans really like. Though the plan didn’t pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, every Republican is still on record as voting for the plan, and the Dems hoped to use that as a major issue in 2012. Weprin did use that as an issue over and over again in the special election, but he still lost. So what will Dems run on in 2012 if that strategy doesn’t work?

It’s also a folly to think that if the GOP nominates someone pretty conservatve like Rick Perry that they will automatically lose the presidential election. The Democrats thought they would easily defeat Reagan because he was considered too consevative, but Reagan won twice, easily.

A lot can still happen between now and the next election cycle. Right now, the county is in an anti-incumbant mood, and Congress’ approval numbers are even lower than the president’s. A path to re-election for Obama can be to run against the Republican-controlled Congress, like Harry Truman did, when he refered to them as the “do nothing Congress.”  If Congress refuses to pass even parts of the president’s new job bill, he can state over and over again during the election cycle that he tried to get the economy moving, but the GOP obstructed and blocked the bill.

Whatever happens in 2012, it’s likely this country is going to keep having change elections. Democrats made major gains in 2006 and 2008, and the GOP made major gains in 2010 and seems poised to make more in 2012. The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth, due to the poor economy and uncertain future of this country.

pondering 2012

Recently, former New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote  a compelling article about the Obama Administration, specifically the faults of the administration in dealing with the economy and of selecting a poor financial team, specifically Tim Geithner.

Read the article here.

Rich does make great points, and he’s right to argue that if reelected, Obama  needs to get rid of his financial team and have a laser-like focus on creating jobs and doing something more to stimulate the economy, since unemployment is still around 9 percent.

But I also understand the dire consequences of NOT voting for Obama. If the GOP maintains the House and wins back the White House and Senate, this country is in serious trouble. This GOP has pivoted so far to the right that after the 2010 mid-term elections they have succeeded at stripping collective bargaining rights in some states, creating deep cuts to education (especially in PA), rolling back abortion rights in several states, and pushing forward new voter laws that would disenfranchise minority voters. Just imagine what would happen if the party controls all branches of the federal government after the 2012 elections. This is the party that is seriously willing to crash the economy because they refuse to tax the super-rich as part of debt ceiling negotiations. This is all a real possibility, and unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s failure to address the economy early on has made GOP super majorties a real possibility. I just hope he gets some sense before 2012 is closer and realizes what his party is supposed to stand for.