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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Can The Democratic Party Survive Barack Obama?

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” — James Madison, Federalist No. 51

As the walls of fortress Obama are begging to crumble his princes and princesses in the Democratic Party are starting to become fearful of their future when their king is dethroned. There are other rebel princes and princesses massing in the forest ready to take the castle and throne a king of the peoples choosing. These rebels, called Republicans and Libertarians, while diverse in their beliefs, are growing stronger each day as they see cracks in the fortress walls. Like Jericho, of biblical fames they are marching around the fortress walls blowing their trumpets.

Meanwhile the king is busy trying to convince the people that is has been anointed by God to rule the land and travels about giving speeches to his supporters urging them to believe in him leaving his princes and princesses to defend the castle.

Four the past five years the king has relied on his court jesters in the mediaObama_EmperorCrown to defend him from the slings and arrows of the rebels. Until now they have been the king’s most ardent protectors and have kept him safe from rebel attacks. But this is changing as the jesters see that the king they so zealously admired is really a very narcissistic and petty man who cares only for himself and his queen. Now many in the kingdom are chanting "The king never tried, his diplomats died."

The jesters, believing in the progressive ideology of the king are now beginning to look about for a new prince or princess to support, but they not having much success in their quest. You see the king jealous of his power and believing he is the anointed one has not allowed nor supported the rise of any other princes or princesses in the land either in his castle or their own fiefdoms called states.

If you think this parable is too fantastic to believe I offer the following from the real news.

One of the Democrats’ most veteran strategists warns that the party is “in decline” and “at considerable risk” when President Barack Obama is no longer on the scene.

“Since Obama was elected President, the Democrats have lost nine governorships, 56 members of the House and two Senate seats,” Doug Sosnik, the political director in Bill Clinton’s White House, writes in a new memo.

While Republican branding problems get the lion’s share of attention, the Democratic Party’s favorability rating has declined by 15 points since Obama took power. A Pew Research Center survey this January showed that the Democratic Party was viewed favorably by 47 percent of Americans, down from 62 percent in Jan. 2009.

With the likelihood of gridlock and near-record-low confidence in public institutions, Sosnik expects 2014 to bring the fourth change election in the past eight years.

“This puts Senate Democrats in a vulnerable position, while threatening Republican’s control of the House as well as their sizeable numerical advantage in the governorships across the country,” writes Sosnik, who advised Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential race and now does consulting work for a variety of private-sector clients.

According to Sosnik Obama neither directly campaigned nor raised money for down-ticket Democrats last year. The post-election creation of Organizing for Action to push his own agenda has upset party regulars because it makes the Democratic National Committee less relevant than ever, squeezes fundraising for other Democratic groups and emphasizes issues that put moderates in a bind.

“Obama not only got elected by running against the party establishment, but he has governed as a President who does not emphasize his party label,” These memos are read closely by an influential community of insiders in the political and business worlds. In this one, Sosnik outlines several challenges facing his own party:

  • Obama’s personal popularity does not easily translate for other candidates. The president is not building the Democratic Party’s institutional apparatus in a way that it will thrive when he’s gone.
  • The losses in the 2010 midterms gave Republicans control of the redistricting process, which will be in effect until after the 2020 census. This gives the GOP a structural advantage in keeping the House.
  • Millennials, born 1981 to 1994, and Generation X’ers, born 1965 to 1980, are voting Democratic, but a plurality identify themselves as independents — which makes them less reliable.
  • Democrats cannot count on the same level of African-American turnout without Obama at the top of the ticket. Sosnik cites new analysis showing that in 2012 for the first time ever eligible black voters turned out a higher rate than whites.

While Republicans have a serious Hispanic problem, Sosnik explains, “younger Hispanics feel less of an allegiance to the Democratic Party than their elders.” Only 50 percent of Hispanic voters aged 18-34 identify themselves as Democrats, according to Gallup, compared to 59 percent of Hispanic voters 55 or older. Click here to view Sosnik’s graphs and charts.

If Hillary Clinton does not run, Sosnik fears that Democrats will be left with a thin bench of top-flight presidential contenders in 2016.

Looking to 2014, Democratic base groups also tend to turn out at lower rates for midterms than presidential elections.

In terms of actual policy making, Sosnik believes that it will be “almost impossible” for Obama to effectively engage Congress.

“Obama’s victory last November was a great political achievement, but the fact that he didn’t set out a clear policy agenda for a second term left him without a clear mandate to govern over a politically divided Congress,” he writes.

Sosnik notes that many Republicans are more concerned about losing in a primary than a general election, which makes compromise harder.

“Furthermore,” he writes, “there’s not a single member of either party who fears paying a political price for not falling in line with the President, making it even more difficult to get members to cast difficult votes.”

Sosnik is no doubt on to something and no doubt knows Washington politics better than I, but he no doubt wrote most of this memo before Wednesday’s hearings on Benghazi and Friday’s announcement by the IRS that they auditing tax returns of conservative organizations for political purposes. Both these scandals along with the gun-walking of automatic weapons to Mexico and his numerous failed energy investments will further weaken Obama and the Democrat Party if they blindly support him going forward. As the Benghazi scandal grows in scope and intensity Obama will lose more and more of the so called “independents.” Furthermore I don’t think he realizes how the media, which have supported him so fervently since his run for the presidency will being to dwindle as the spate of scandals grow.

Sosnik, however, is right on his point about the Republican control of state houses and the Democrats weak bench. While the House and Senate are not the farm club for presidents governorships are. There always are a few exceptions to every rule and Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz may be those exceptions. The Republicans are loaded with young, conservative governors who are making news on the national level. Governors such as:

Chris Christie of New Jersey a blue state

  • Rick Snyder of Michigan – a blue
  • Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania – a blue state
  • Paul LePage of Maine – a blue state
  • Rick Scott of Florida – a blue state
  • Dave Heineman of Nebraska –a red state
  • Bobby Jindal of Louisiana –a red state
  • Sam Brownback of Nebraska –a red state
  • Scott Walker of Wisconsin –a red state
  • Mitch Daniels of Indiana – a red state
  • Nicki Halley of South Carolina – a red state
  • Susana Martinez of New Mexico – a blue state

(The color indicates how the state voted in the 1012 presidential election)

While this list is by no means complete it does show the strength of the Republican bench. Ant baseball team with this load of talent in their farm system would replicate the New York Yankees of the 50s and 60s.

On the other hand the Democrats have a very weak bench. Their current prospects are Andrew Cuomo (governor of New York) and Hillary Clinton. (I will address Clinton’s prospects latter.) To continue with the baseball analogy the Democrats look more like the old Washington Senators.

Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute has an excellent article on The Rise of the Republican Governors in which he states:

“Shortly after Barack Obama won reelection in November, New Jersey governor Chris Christie pointed out that Republicans’ cloudy political prospects had a bright silver lining. “One of the reasons you have 30 Republican governors in America, and why we’re the only organization to add Republican strength,” Christie said, “is because people see us getting things done.” Christie’s stance countered most of the elite postelection commentary, which gleefully pronounced the Republican Party’s political irrelevance. But the governor was right. Since Obama first took office in 2008, Republicans have picked up a net nine governorships, bringing their total to 30 states, which hold nearly 184 million Americans. In 24 of those states, containing 157 million Americans, Republicans also control the legislatures. Democrats boast similar power in just 12 states, with a population of 100 million. Even Republicans’ unimpressive national showing last November didn’t reverse their state-level momentum.

“States are laboratories of democracy, in Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous formulation, and the very different experiments that their Republican and Democratic governors conduct over the next few years—especially on issues that go to the heart of economic competitiveness—will be eye-opening. In the months since President Obama’s reelection, it’s becoming clear that the Republican governors plan to lead in ways consistent with the reform agendas that got them elected. How they fare may steer the Republican Party’s course more decisively than any soul-searching in Washington does.”

The Democratic Party just loves Hillary Clinton why I don’t know. Perhaps it’s the name. Hillary left her post as Secretary of State in January with high hopes of beginning her run for the White House in 2016 and will be 69 years old. She accomplished very little as Secretary of State and avoided as much controversy as possible. She pretty much walked in Barack Obama’s shadow. Her hopes were high and prospects good until she appeared in front of a congressional committee and lost her composure when she shouted “what does it matter” when referring to a question regarding the dead Americans killed in Benghazi last September. She had additional damage heaped on her credibility as a leader during last Wednesday’s Benghazigate hearings.

With Benghazi, has Hillary Clinton hit what President Obama might call a “bump on the road” in her widely assumed bid for the presidency in 2016.

Some Republicans say yes. According to National Public Radio, “high-profile Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is displaying signs of being interested in a 2016 presidential run, recently told a Missouri audience that Clinton has disqualified herself for future public office by her actions.” At a “Spirit of Reagan” award ceremony, Paul said that, “I think that her dereliction of duty — I don't question her motives — but her dereliction of duty and her lack of leadership should preclude her from holding any other office.”

On the other hand Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House oversight committee looking into Benghazi, summarizes the response of the defenders of former Secretary of State Clinton. He says that Republicans are using the witnesses' statements at the Benghazi hearings for “political purposes.” While Cummings, a very ardent Hillary supporter may spin this, I think future revelations about Benghazi and Ms. Clinton’s role will prove him no more than the partisan hack he is.

The backdrop to Mrs. Clinton’s situation is what the news media call the “narrative” of her public and political life. Consistent with Congressman Cummings’ framing, that narrative — pushed by Mrs. Clinton’s admirers in her party and the press — is that she is so elevated in stature that she is “above” the petty bickering of “politics.”

This is patently absurd. Mrs. Clinton is clearly comfortable with her own brand of “political purposes.” As Bill Clinton’s wife, as a former First Lady in Arkansas and Washington, as a U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State and before that as a political activist, she has been deeply involved in politics going all the way back to her college days.

Indeed, she served as a researcher for the House Judiciary Committee about procedures, grounds and standards for impeachment at the time of Watergate. And now, with Benghazi, in a supreme irony, the same questions are being asked about Mrs. Clinton as were asked about former President Richard Nixon concerning Watergate:

What did she know and when did she know it? What did she do (or not do)? Did she lie, distort, cover up and evade responsibility? Did she place politics above ethics? Did she seek deniability over accountability? Did her staff and advisors peddle false stories about causes and effects? Did they try to impugn the integrity and motives of those who have criticized her? Was she devious and complicit? What were the broader human and political costs of her involvement in the events being investigated? How does all this affect her legacy and reputation (her past) and what implications does it have for her future as a public figure and a participant in public life?

Abraham Lincoln said that, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.”

The public sentiment about Hillary Clinton has traditionally been sky-high, as measured by the Gallup Poll. Three months after the Benghazi attack, in December of 2012, a Gallup Poll found Mrs. Clinton to be “the most admired woman in the world,” with 21 percent selecting her and with First Lady Michelle Obama a distant second at five percent. It was the 17th time in 20 years that Mrs. Clinton had taken that title.

The challenge to the public sentiment about Hillary Clinton with the Benghazi hearings depends on its effect on Mrs. Clinton’s carefully constructed personal and political narrative, which has always depended on a paradox: that she is both a victor and a victim.

Her supporters celebrate what they believe is Mrs. Clinton’s superior competence, intelligence, compassion and her toughness and resilience when under attack by her critics. In this, they portray her as a victor.

Simultaneously, Mrs. Clinton’s narrative depicts her as a victim. During her husband’s enmeshment in a scandal about his affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, Mrs. Clinton told NBC’s Matt Lauer that there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president." Mrs. Clinton’s playing of the victim card and her conspiracy theories have encompassed an abundance of charges against her over the years, including her questionable investing record (Whitewater real estate, cattle futures trading) and her role in the so-called “Filegate” and “Travelgate” allegations.

Whether she is presented as a victor or a victim, the basis of Mrs. Clinton’s narrative has always been that she is a sympathetic figure, besieged by unsympathetic critics. But the officials testifying in the Benghazi hearings are initially coming across as sincere and emotionally sympathetic. The parents of the slain Americans at Benghazi who have appeared in TV interviews have likewise been sincere and emotionally sympathetic.

In her belated Senate testimony about Benghazi back in January, Mrs. Clinton looked markedly unsympathetic — angry, aggressive andAPTOPIX Clinton Libya insensitive — as she pounded the desk and shouted, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Even if a “smoking gun” is revealed about Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in Benghazi, it is wise to consider that she has survived other smoking guns in her and her husband’s past. The power of her personal and political narrative — with its soap opera-like ups and downs — is ingrained in America’s consciousness. And in good and bad times for her, Americans in Gallup polls keep expressing their admiration for her.

We are three years away from 2016 — and time and Hillary Clinton’s narrative are likely to work in her favor. The real opposition to Hillary Clinton will not come from the Republicans in 2016 but from the Democrat wannabes, like Andrew Cuomo, who not treat her with kid gloves as they make their run for the White House.

How 2016 will work out for the Republican bench but I hope it is nor a replay of 2012 with a covey of candidates stepping on each other and allowing the least controversial of the bunch to run against Obama. There is no sense replaying the 2012 Republican primaries. The Bench is much stronger now. Much will depend on the off-year election in 2014 and the continued success of those 30 Republican governors.

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