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2010 and 1994, Cont.

How different is Obama from Clinton?

4:16 PM, Feb 18, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Yesterday, I noted that the media are quickly catching on to the fact that there's a chance, however small, that Congress may change hands in November. This wasn't the case in 1994 -- back then, folks didn't feel the first tremors of the coming political earthquake until the summertime, and those who did tended to be conservatives. Tod Lindberg raised the possibility in Policy Review in June 1994. (I'm told John Fund in the Wall Street Journal did, as well.) Michael Barone called it that July.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg writes today that he penned a memo to Democrats in May 1994 warning that “The administration, the Democrats in Congress and the party face a disaster in November unless we move urgently to change the mood of the country.” But he goes on to say that, "even then, I couldn’t imagine that Democrats would exacerbate the disaster, ending their decades of hegemony in the House."

Read Greenberg's piece. What strikes you is how many of the developments leading to the Republican Revolution did not occur until late in the year. Congress defeated the Crime Bill in August 1994, which led to Clinton's approval rating falling to 39 percent. When Congress returned from recess in September, Senate majority leader George Mitchell announced there wouldn't be a vote on Clinton's health bill. At that point, Clinton's agenda was in ruins. Republicans were firing at will and the Democrats had no good defense.

All of this is to say that a lot of politics is still to come in 2010, and who knows what's going to happen. Nevertheless, it is hard to see how Democrats can right the ship. Their agenda won't do it. Attacks on Republicans and Tea Partiers haven't worked for them yet, either.

Greenberg notes that President Obama's approval ratings are rather stable around 50 percent. These numbers are far higher than Clinton's were in 1994. Obama's political mission, therefore, is to preserve support from Democrats so as not to see his approval fall further. That's why he is moving to shift the blame for Democratic inaction to Republican obstruction.

But will that be enough to stave off the third wave election in a row? Obama's approval rating was high in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts -- and Republicans won in all three states. And as Rich Lowry noted the other day, Obama's approval rating among the voters most likely to turn out this Election Day is already at Clinton-levels.

E.J. Dionne has it right: "Moderate and progressive Democrats alike have eight months between now and this fall's elections to change the terms of the debate and prove they can govern. Otherwise, they'll be washed out by a tidal wave." Surf's up.

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