Right after Democrats got routed in the midterm election, the left-wing group MoveOn.org blasted their activists with a message not to panic. Party leaders should, in fact, “double down on progressive policies.”
This is the kind of advice you would expect from a gang of young ideological activists, but what is amazing is that Barack Obama and the Democrats have followed it. On immigration, energy, climate change, regulatory overreach—Obama issued 3,000 new rules before Thanksgiving—the Democrats have pretended that the election didn’t happen.
Obama’s immediate response to middle- and working-class economic anxiety was a new global warming deal with China and a call to close down coal-burning power plants, both of which will destroy even more jobs. The White House followed up with a new program centered on “gender equity” in the workforce.
Democratic approval ratings have gotten even worse in the month since the blowout election. Some Democrats, like New York’s Chuck Schumer and retiring senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, have rung the alarm that the party is out of sync with working-class voters. But they’re lonely voices. The party’s New Democrat Clinton wing—Bill Clinton, that is—is extinct.
The left is flummoxed that their progressive economic message has fallen so flat. After the election, the seven-figure-and-up donors gathered with Democratic leaders to assess what went wrong. “Many Democratic patrons and party strategists concluded that the White House did not offer a compelling argument about how much has improved on President Obama’s watch and how people’s lives would benefit if congression-al Democrats held their seats, the Washington Post reported. “There’s a strong sense that we weren’t full-throated enough about jobs and economy—both in talking about accomplishments and what we need to do,” one attendee said. “We needed a broader narrative.”
It’s not at all clear what this broader narrative might be. Some liberals have argued that the president and congressional Democrats should be taking more credit for this recovery, which is clearly picking up and creating more jobs. Paul Krugman wrote in Rolling Stone (and we’ve discovered how accurate that magazine is) that Barack Obama should be heralded as an economic savior. Yet even with the recent improvement, the dramatic underperformance of the economy of the last five and a half years is just too pronounced for all but the most ardent of “hope and change” true believers. Even Democrats are undermining the recovery narrative: Heir apparent Hillary Clinton has been telling people around the country the middle class is getting squeezed and the poor are getting poorer—under Obama.
Meanwhile, liberals have been grousing that Republicans won by stealing from the left’s populist playbook and emphasizing issues like reducing poverty, rewarding work, making health care affordable, and increasing working wages. How can this be? Can voters be so “stupid”—to borrow a Gruberism—that they don’t understand Republicans only care about rich people?
But on issue after issue, that isn’t how working-class voters see things. Take, for example, the Democrats’ continuing and lunatic opposition to the Keystone pipeline. Why would a party that allegedly cares about blue-collar unions kill a project that would create 10,000 jobs for their members? Keystone symbolizes why blue-collar Reagan Democrats have started abandoning the party. The working class wants jobs and high incomes—how many times do they have to say this to pollsters? Billionaire Democratic funder Tom Steyer wants a green agenda that would block any and all energy projects and the $60-, $80-, and $100K-a-year jobs that go with them.
Another example: In the weeks before the election, Barack Obama ran around the country and the world declaring that climate change is the biggest problem facing the nation and the planet. According to almost every recent poll, only about 3 percent of voters agree. Most voters say they are concerned about climate change, but it ranks at the very, very bottom of their concerns.