President Obama made an empty State of the Union speech, short on new ideas, and long on old rhetoric. He did not “pivot” on the critical issues, that is to say, he did not draw on any lessons from President Clinton’s experiences in 1994, and decide to go to the operative political center on healthcare, trade, domestic legislation and foreign policy.
It was a “brave front” type of speech, the kind which says “I am following the policies I believe in even if they are not popular.” The problem with this approach, however, is not simply that his agenda is unpopular, but that it is wrong-headed as well. No matter what political “sweetmeats” or other favors he offers senators and congresspersons, he no longer has the votes for his agenda. Democratic incumbents can easily see the electoral handwriting on the wall, and nearly all of them are not ready for premature involuntary retirement by angry voters.
So now there will be a period of verbal maneuvering and grandstanding by the Democratic leadership until what is obvious to the rest of us even becomes clear to them as well. In the meantime, opinion polls will continue to disclose diminished support for most incumbent Democrats, increased numbers for Republican challengers, and a persistent decline of the president’s popularity. This may not go in exactly a straight line, but over the spring and summer the numbers for the majority party will be bad news.
At the same time, the unprecedented grassroots organizing effort for the conservatives will grow. The upset special U.S. senate election in Massachusetts demonstrates that conservative voters will not be applying so many “purity” tests that Democrats and their media followers have predicted. Yes, there will be battles. For example, Congressman Rubio will probably prevail in Florida, as will Governor Perry in Texas. Other conservatives will likely win in primary contests with establishment moderates in some race across the country. In other cases, especially in centrist states, the moderates will win. Almost all Republicans, however, will express conservative economic ideas in November.
This presents the Democrats with a much more formidable challenge. They had counted on a weak, unorganized and polarized-to-the-far-right opposition. They thought they could win the battles of 2010 with rhetoric, as they had done in 2008.
Almost a month ago (before Massachusetts), I wrote in The Prairie Editor that the GOP could pick up 12 senate seats and 55 house seats. Most of my readers, including conservative Republicans, probably thought I was daft. (I did request that no one call 9-1-1.) Now I notice that many of my colleagues are suggesting the potential for similar outcomes.( I may have even understated the numbers!)
At some point, cooler and savvier heads in the Democratic Party will prevail over the amateur “true believer” crowd now in charge of strategy, and President Obama WILL pivot.Otherwise, the voters will clean Congress as it not has ever done before.