Holding the New Democratic Majority Together

by SheriAllan on November 13, 2008

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With Daniel Berrier of ElectoPundit.

Part 1: Reading the Election

Barack Hussein Obama, the newly elected 44th President of the United States is almost certain to disappoint his most ardent supporters. 

Obama will not be progressive enough for many of the people who backed him, and even if he is as talented as he appears to his supporters, and even many of his opponents, he is not likely to be able to bring two wars to a reasonable end and fix what is structurally wrong with the economy in the next year, or the one after that where Democrats may be poised to suffer losses in the congressional elections, or even the two years following that when he will again have to face the voters.   

This should not be misunderstood as an attack on the new president.  In fact it was a central theme in Obama’s victory speech when he said:  “The challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime — two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century…The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term.” 

Holding first-time voters and people voting for their first Democrat
That diminishing expectations has become such a critical goal for a just elected President’s team as they move from campaign to transition to governing is far from unusual, but it becomes particularly important to Obama because he owes so much to so many young voters who are experiencing a Washington takeover for the first time, and so many liberal voters who feel their pursuit of a truly progressive agenda has been denied and delayed for too long.

But Obama, as well as many of the new senators and congressional representatives who will be sworn in next January, also owe a lot to the suburban and exurban swing voters, working men and women, soccer moms and yes, even some hockey moms, who even if they were not voting for the first time may have been voting for a Democrat for the first time.

Winning the middle, middle, middle
Obama won this election because he won in the triple middle – middle income, moderate, white independents in middle-America.  John McCain, Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber targeted them as hard as they could, but Barack Obama and Joe (the) Biden won their votes.  Obama won the race in the same counties Ronald Reagan won.  The most famous counties in American politics (the counties Michael Barone was writing about when he was a teenager) like Macomb County in Michigan, Prince William County in Virginia, and Arapahoe County in Colorado made double digit moves from Bush in 2004 to Obama in 2008. 

In 2004 George W. Bush beat John Kerry in Osceola County, just south of Orlando in the heart of Florida’s swing “I-4 Corridor” by a margin of 52% to 47%.  Obama beat John McCain in Osceola County by a whopping 60% to 40%.  In the admittedly double counting that is common in this sort of political analysis, the 13 point gain in Democratic support and 12 point decline in Republican vote combine to be called a 25 point swing in the margin. 

But it would be a real mistake to read this result as an endorsement of a liberal progressive agenda.  After this election Virginia now has two Democratic Senators (Jim Webb and Mark Warner), a Democratic Governor (Tim Kaine), and just voted for a Democratic president, but in not one of these four races did they think they were voting for a liberal. 

In nationwide exit polls, just 22% of voters in the presidential race described their political views as liberal, and 34% described their views as conservative.  Obama won 20% of these conservative votes, but even more important to his victory, Obama won the largest group, the 44% of voters who describe themselves as moderate by a decisive 60% to 39% margin. 

McCain didn’t lose this election George Bush did
As Obama tries to hold on to the votes of his blue state supporters and his new supporters in the red states he and other Democrats were able to win, his biggest problem is that the one thing that united them all, their dislike for President Bush, becomes irrelevant the first day Obama takes office.  To a large degree these voters were not voting for Obama in 2008, and John McCain did not lose this election.  George Bush lost this election. 

John McCain did say one thing that was completely wrong.  In the third presidential debate, McCain said to Obama,   “Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.”  In fact, 2008 was an excellent year to run against George W. Bush.  The exit poll tells us 71% of voters disapproved of President Bush on Election Day and Barack Obama won 67% of these voters. 

In the end, Bush faced the voters in three national elections.  He won one of them (2004) and lost two (2000 and 2008).

Holding the New Democratic Majority Together
Part 2: The Road Forward

To The Editor: The in-coming President, you rightly note, has taken pains to hold the expectations of his long denied followers within achievable bounds. The trick is how can he do it without dampening the wave of enthusiasm of his younger supporters who are, because of their age and idealism, especially prone to becoming unraveled at the first sign of disappointment.  There will be, as you also note, inevitable disappointments. So what to do?

Two things: First, the President-elect should not waste a minute in getting his supporters behind his call for “Change That We Can Believe In” that catapulted him into office earlier this month. If there were but one body of opinion within the Democratic Party, the task would be relatively easy. But the Democratic party, more so than its Republican counterpart, is a highly diverse coalition of interests and passions. Fence building across various parts of that coalition should be taking place now, as it already has with respect to Senator Joseph Lieberman.

Second, the President and his Administration will need to strike while the iron is hot. Doing so will help maintain the broad momentum behind his election victory. It enjoys the additional benefit of keeping the Republicans off balance: which is exactly where they deserve to be kept after 8 disgraceful–even by their own shoddy standards–years of governance under George W. Bush, and his Congressional enablers.

John Starrels
Chevy Chase, MD


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