Democrats look awfully frantic for a party with history on its side.
May 26, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 35 • By FRED BARNES
Democrats think they are the party of the future. After a last hurrah for Republicans in this year’s midterm elections, Democrats will have a commanding majority at the polls as far as the eye can see. A rising tide of minority, young, female, and affluent liberal voters assures them of this. And perhaps it will.
Don’t hold your breath.
But Democrats aren’t acting like a political party on the brink of taking over the country. They’re unnerved and unhappy. Their chief motivation these days is to make Republicans look bad. Ideological fissures are dividing them on health care, energy, and charter schools. President Obama’s second term keeps getting worse. He’s lost interest in bipartisan compromise. His agenda is largely rhetorical.
If you think Obama and Democrats in Congress are getting along well at the moment, forget it. Meanwhile, the wheels are beginning to come off the bandwagon to boost Hillary Clinton as the next president. Senate majority leader Harry Reid is obsessed with the Koch brothers. He fears they’ll hasten a Republican takeover of the Senate by outspending even his Senate Majority PAC. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is befuddled on how to handle the special committee investigating the Benghazi affair.
Democrats are increasingly living in a fantasy world. They believe Obamacare, following a rocky debut, is now headed for smooth sailing and the chance of repeal is dead. Wrong on both counts. There’s big trouble ahead once delayed mandates are operative and millions lose their employer-paid health insurance, face higher premiums, and confront limits on their access to first-rate health professionals. All that’s required for repeal is a Republican president and Congress—a possibility in 2016.
Listening to Democrats and Obama, one might conclude a solid economic recovery is firmly in place. Hardly. Obama’s refusal to seek incentives for investment continues to stymie growth and job creation. He’s sticking with policies that have produced the weakest recovery in memory. Obama prefers to expand the welfare state, not spur the private economy.
Without troubling Democrats, a record number of Americans are dropping out of the workforce entirely, more than 800,000 in April alone. This has created a mirage of declining unemployment. When the number of dropouts exceeds the newly employed, as was the case in April, the jobless rate declines. The media can be relied on to focus on the falling rate, and Democrats are pleased. But the economy may not have improved at all.
By the way, what happened to the 5 million “green” jobs that Obama promised to create? Democrats took his promise seriously. In 2009, the economic stimulus package included billions for green industries. And Democrats like Senator Barbara Boxer of California campaigned for reelection in 2010 on an anticipated explosion of green jobs. She was a true believer and may still be. But the 5 million jobs, or anything close to that number, have yet to materialize.
The biggest Democratic fantasy is the impact of global warming. The trouble used to be in the future when oceans would rise and glaciers melt. But the Obama administration now says global warming is causing floods and wildfires and droughts today. Next they’ll blame the calamities of the past—the Great Galveston Hurricane maybe or Noah’s flood—on global warming.
The left wing of the Democratic party is hysterical on this subject. Christopher Hayes of the Nation has discovered a “connection between slavery and fossil fuels.” Who knew? So what’s needed now, Hayes writes, is a “New Abolitionism” to free America from “the grip of a fossil fuel frenzy almost without precedent.”
These fantasies show how far removed Democrats are from the cares of average Americans. Yes, Republicans have fantasies of their own. (One is that voters are opposed to immigration reform.) But no one is predicting the coming decades will transform the GOP into a powerful majority party.
Democrats have another problem, their lurch to the left led by Obama. Most political reporters have missed this while exaggerating the Republican drift to the right. The exception is Josh Kraushaar of National Journal. He recently made a strong case—irrefutable, I’d say—that Democrats have moved leftward on five big issues: the budget deficit, income inequality, the environment, social issues, and America’s role in the world.
This won’t help Democrats in 2016, when their surge to dominance is supposed to begin. Instead, its effect may be to weaken the demographic trend. That Democratic voting blocs like Latinos are increasing is beyond dispute. The question is whether they’ll continue to vote for Democrats in such high percentages.
In 2004, President George W. Bush got either 40 percent or 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, depending on which survey you believe. Four years later, John McCain dipped to 31 percent. In 2012, Mitt Romney slipped further to 27 percent.
Voting groups change their minds. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, pro-life Democrats migrated to the GOP. Evangelical Christians who voted in 1976 for Jimmy Carter abandoned him in 1980, voted heavily for Ronald Reagan, and have stayed in the Republican orbit.
Demography is destiny only “up to a point,” Michael Barone says. A disastrous finish to the Obama era could blunt the trend toward Democratic rule. If that’s what is bothering Harry Reid and Democrats, no wonder they seem so cheerless.
Fred Barnes is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.
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