I'm a bit late, but this is the time of year when pundits issue their predictions for the coming year. Normally, I stay out of the political prognostication racket. It's as thankless as writing for Arianna Huffington.
Like when I predicted that Howard Dean had the Democratic nomination all sewn up. Nicely played. It'll be in my obit.
I dare not die.
Do readers remember that I was the only one to call the Afghanistan War lost back in 2001? That I was the first to note that Bush's handling of Katrina would mark the beginning of the end for his presidency? That I was the first American pundit to criticize Bush after 9/11? Nope.
The year 2010 could end up being a big one politically. So, with nothing more than my already wounded pride at stake (damn you, Howard Dean, you coulda been a contender!), I'm placing my bets.
First and foremost, the economy will continue to sour. There may be small, brief up-ticks from time to time. But the overall picture will keep trending downward. Credit markets won't loosen. There will be more bankruptcies. More foreclosures. Higher unemployment, both official and real.
I'm a pessimist for one simple reason: None of the structural problems have been addressed. No one has done anything to put more money into the pockets of consumers or businesses. More bailouts and stimuli might help, but Congress won't approve them after the last time, when bankers used the loot to buy new yachts. Not that they would have signed on during an election year anyway.
Things won't get better because they can't get better.
Obama's job approval rating, which has already fallen faster than any president's in the history of opinion polling, is tied to the unfolding fiscal apocalypse. Unless there's another 9/11, his numbers will plunge toward the Dick Cheney Zone.
It's fair, mostly. Obama could have done a lot to ease the economic pain: direct federal assistance to distressed homeowners, nationalize insolvent banks rather than bail them out, giant New Deal-style federal employment projects, all funded by immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, he kept Bush's policies (and personnel). After the voters had rejected them.
Turns out we were wrong about Obama. He's not smart. He's not wise.
He's just calm.
There's also a racist component to Obama's problems with the electorate. Obama is much like David Dinkins, elected in 1989 as New York City's first black mayor. Dinkins, an affable Democrat, made the mistake of thinking that African-Americans were his political base. They weren't. White liberals were.
At the time, I overheard many variants of the following conversation: "New York has a lot of blacks. They've never had a mayor. Why not give them a chance to run the city?" Dinkins screwed up--not spectacularly--but he made a lot of boneheaded moves, such as ordering that white teachers be laid off first during the recession.
Hell hath no fury like a white person scorned.
"Never again," I heard countless white liberals say after that. "They [blacks] had their chance." White anger at Dinkins was out of proportion in response to his poor performance; if he'd been the same lousy mayor--but with white skin--he wouldn't have been as reviled.
We're seeing that now. Obama is a terrible president, just another Bill Clinton, one unwilling to seize the opportunities afforded by the global economic meltdown. White voter remorse, however, is a bitch. Americans hate Obama more than they would hate Clinton (for example)--because he's black.
Racist buyer's remorse will hurt Obama in the polls...and lead to Democratic losses in the midterm elections.
Conventional wisdom says that the Democrats will lose seats in the House and Senate in November. But no one is predicting a 1994 bloodbath. The GOP, goes the thinking, is too disorganized and fractured to wipe the floor with incumbent Dems. Also, writes Nancy Cohen in The Los Angeles Times, "what was most important about 1994 politically won't make or break the 2010 elections. Congress changed hands in 1994 because the Christian right recruited new voters and white Southerners shifted en masse to the GOP." That won't happen in 2010, she says. "Neither evangelicals nor white Southerners can swing this year's election, because they are the Republican Party."
Generally, I agree with Cohen's take. But I think Democratic losses will be more severe than the experts expect. Voters are being forced to flop back and forth between two parties they hate, but their contempt for the Democrats will be particularly toxic. Republicans don't (and didn't) promise anything more than the same old tax cuts for the rich.
Obama's Democrats, on the other hand, ran as agents of hope and change. It wouldn't be as bad for them if their party's standard bearer hadn't failed so spectacularly, managing to live down to John McCain's denigrating portrayal of him as an empty suit.
Nothing pisses people off more than being promised the big and then failing to receive even the small.
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