For political observers, the upcoming mid-term elections have been a thoroughly confusing affair. Republicans, who Americans seem to agree have behaved terribly in recent years, are expected to win big, even flipping the Senate into their hands. Having thrown an epic, six year-long temper tantrum that would make a three-year-old ask them to grow up, the party has, against all odds, managed to avoid any repercussions for it.
On the other side, Democrats have spent this election largely apologizing for being liberals – a position that is logically absurd, but also functionally self-defeating. It seems that a wave of cognitive dissonance has rolled over the electorate and the Democrats have bought into it, too. No matter how silly the Republicans have gotten, the narrative remains that Democrats have something to be sorry for.
This stubborn myth explains how, despite Obamacare being a roaring success, is still viewed by many Democrats as politically inconvenient. Never has so much good been done for so many people only to have the architects of the bill run away from their creation. Given the way Democrats have hid from Obamacare, you’d think they had given millions of people Ebola, not access to affordable healthcare.
It’s nearly impossible for Republicans to find a good criticism of Obama to sink their teeth into, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying. It’s why their campaigns have been all over the place lately, attacking Obama for everything from playing too much golf to holding a coffee cup during a salute. What they haven’t done is mention his record… because his actual record makes him look pretty good.
Comedian Bill Maher did an excellent bit on a recent episode of Real Time that chastised Democrats for their cowardice in refusing to fight back against these tactics. He summed up some of Obama’s accomplished, all of which Democrats shouldn’t have spent the entire election season running away from:
“Sixty-three straight months of economic expansion. A depression averted. A deficit reduced by two-thirds. A health care law that’s working and lowering costs. Two women on the Supreme Court. Bin Laden’s dead. Stock market at record heights. An unemployment rate that dropped from 10.2 to 5.9. If you’re a Fox News viewer trying to do the math, that’s less.”
But despite the facts, the myth has been the stuff dominating the news cycles. It’s why former American Idol Winner/current North Carolina Democratic congressional challenger/future North Carolina Democratic congressional loser Clay Aiken was terrified to be seen with Obama, specifically telling reporters that he did not want Obama’s help during his election. Aiken claimed his campaign was “doing well” without the president. Again, Maher was on point: “No you’re not…. Now that there actually is a North Carolina [with a] liberal base that you could have energized, instead of this pipe dream of trying to make the Duck Dynasty-types vote for a guy who has had his eyebrows done.”
And watching Democrats hide from Obama emboldens the Right, who use that reluctance to justify their claims that Obama does have skeletons in his closet. Look, they say, he must be bad – even Democrats won’t associate with him!
The Obama Myth also explains why Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, refused to say whether she had voted for Obama – the sitting Democratic president and, ostensibly, the leader of her party. She too was scared. When a reporter asked her who she voted for, her answer should have been no more remarkable an insight than “Democrat admits she voted for Democratic president in last election.” Instead she botched it, setting herself up to be lampooned by conservatives and liberals alike for committing what amounts to an unforced error. It should come as no surprise that she, too, finds herself down in the polls.
All over the country, less surreal, but still awkward examples of democratic cowardice have played out in local and state elections. Many thinkpieces, both on conservative and liberal websites, have spilled digital ink about the various snubs Obama has experienced from members of his own party who simply don’t want to be seen standing next to him.
The conventional thinking is that Obama is deeply unpopular, the counterpart – if we could go so low – to George W. Bush near the end of his term. But, as Addicting Info’s own Wendy Gittleson noted just recently, the idea that Obama is unpopular is, like Obamacare’s failure, itself a myth. Consider this: His lowest approval rating is still higher than any president’s lowest since John F. Kennedy.
So, no, Obama isn’t mirroring George W. Bush. Bush bottomed out at a truly mind-boggling 19 percent. That is the gold standard for “unpopular” president. Obama is just divisive, but then he’s always been divisive. He’s the first black president. He destroyed the GOP in 2008. Then again in 2012. He even got things done despite the Republican malfeasance. The Right hated him for it. “Universally beloved” was never going to be an option.
But what happens when someone rejects the myth? What would a candidate look like who actually forgot about the silly whining from Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, and instead leaned into the idea that the Democratic Party is a political party that has actually done a lot of good?
The best – and sadly the only – example of a senate candidate with the courage to actually stand with the president rather than pretend he doesn’t exist is Michigan’s Senate challenger Gary Peters. Far from apologizing for Obama, Peters asked the president to attend a rally and give a speech standing alongside him on the very last week before the polls open.
In many ways, Michigan is the ideal testing ground for whether or not a candidate could reject the Obama Myth and still be competitive. A purple state with a strong liberal base as well as many conservatives, it would be easy to go the Clay Aiken route and ignore the liberals and desperately court moderate conservatives. Instead, Peters went with the president.
As the crowd cheered, Peters — a Wayne State graduate — welcomed Obama’s appearance, and stressed the bailout of the auto industry.
“Thank God, our president stood up for American workers,” said Peters, who also pointed out that his election could determine control of the Senate. [source]
Obama, perhaps happy to flex his rhetorical powers in front of a crowd rather than shilling at a fundraiser for a one governor or another, gave a roaring speech. He spoke so passionately that half way through his voice nearly went out – and he kept going.
“They don’t have an agenda for the middle class!” Obama shouted as a crowd of several thousand cheered. “They don’t have an agenda for Detroit! They don’t have an agenda for Michigan!”
The crowd, many of them who’s jobs are still around thanks to Obama’s actions to save the auto industry after the financial collapse, didn’t seem to find Obama’s presence off-putting. They were energized. The kind of energy that Maher noted Aiken lacked. These were potential voters who were fired up to vote.
The result of this mad experiment? Peters holds a massive 15-lead on his Republican opponent. When the dust has settled after Election Day, he may in fact be the only new Democratic senator going to Washington.
There are a number of reasons Republicans are expected to make huge gains in both chambers of Congress – gerrymandering, voter ID laws, piles of dark money being spent on Republican candidates – but the one area that Democrats could make a difference and failed to is in voter apathy. It’s no fun to vote for candidates who seem afraid to speak too loudly about their liberalism lest the big, bad Republicans come and be mean to them. It’s hard enough as it is to get Democrats to the polls, giving them something to vote for could make all the difference.
In comparison, it’s hard to imagine Clay Aiken made any liberals sit up when he bashed the president. That spinelessness doesn’t amount to much. And that’s a missed opportunity that the nation can’t afford to make.
Update: As expected, Peters “trounced” his Republican opponent. Meanwhile, Grimes and Aiken both lost. While Democrats lick their wounds, they might do well to take this example to heart.