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Morning Jay: In Search of Strawmen, the Midwest, Health Care, and More!

6:30 AM, Sep 20, 2010 • By JAY COST
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1. Desperately Seeking Strawmen.  One of President Obama’s chief rhetorical tricks since he was inaugurated has been to attack strawmen, tendentiously drawn caricatures against whom Obama can contrast himself.  Usually, the president does this to create the false impression that he is a centrist – he creates a strawman to his left, then one to his right, shrugs his shoulders and says, “I guess I’m the moderate!’

But the problem for the president has been that Republicans were totally booted from power, between Arlen Specter’s principled party switch and Scott Brown’s victory.  It’s tough to create that false sense of centrism when you have no powerful opponents to your right.

Fortunately for the president, Donna Brazille has the answer:

The good news is that the Tea Party Republicans are taking over the Republican Party. The bad news is that the Tea Party Republicans are taking over the Republican Party. The party of Eisenhower and Reagan is moribund, usurped by the party of Tea Partyers shouting loudly for something, or perhaps nothing at all.

Polls show that 50 percent of Americans have no opinion of the Tea Party. That provides an opportunity for President Obama to accurately define it. Now, newspapers nearly always describe the Tea Party movement as being for "small government and fiscal rectitude."

First of all, I love that Ronald Reagan is suddenly a moderate!

Beyond that, the fact that Brazille thinks President Obama should try to turn the Tea Partiers into his next strawmen - not to mention that the White House is actually considering the idea - is an indication that the Democrats are running out of potential demons.  Their shots against John Boehner last week seemed to fall flat, so I guess this is all that’s left.  

At best, this strategy might help swing an odd election here and there to the Democrats - e.g. Delaware and (maybe) Nevada - and increase the historically low levels of Democratic enthusiasm by a point or two. But that's it. For the swing voters who determine elections, it's clear by now that the midterm is going to be about the deeply unpopular policies of President Obama.  Attacking the Tea Partiers is not going to distract them because the Tea Partiers have had nothing to do with those policies.  This cycle, the GOP has the better argument, and it is not going to take the bait.  Republican candidates everywhere will answer the charge of radicalism with a simple question: "Where are the jobs, Mr. President?"  

The fact that the White House is thinking about such demagoguery is another strong indication that it is simply looking to keep Democratic turnout high enough to prevent a 1974-style tsunami. And it's another sad milestone in the decline of Barack Obama, who promised to be a leader who could heal political wounds and bridge ideological divides, but who has since come to embody much of what he campaigned against.

 2. Moribund in the Midwest. I’ve been noting that the Democrats look really bad in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but the party’s problems are more broadly based, stretching through the whole Midwest.  The latest evidence comes from Rasmussen, which finds Scott Walker, the GOP nominee for Governor in Wisconsin, up 8 points over his Democratic rival, Tom Barrett.  That’s a bigger lead than what Rasmussen found last month.  Throughout the Midwest the GOP is on track to win eight of nine gubernatorial contests.  They also very well could sweep the nine Senate contests in the region as well.

Since the election of 1824, the modern-day Midwest has been critical in swinging the balance of power. Look through the annals of political history, and you’ll see that the Jacksonian Democrats, the Lincoln-McKinley Republicans, then FDR’s Democrats could dominate the government because they ran strong in the Midwest.  The region is set to swing big to the GOP in 2010.  If President Obama can’t rebound here before 2012, he will not be reelected president.  It’s just that simple.

3. Mailbag...Health Care!  Thanks to everybody who submitted a question.  Eric from Phoenix writes:

I would love to see a focus on the 'key Obamacare' stakeholders and where they stand.

This is a great idea.  One of the major issues with the current Democratic majority is that the leadership comes almost exclusively from liberal congressional districts, and so are thus almost totally insulated from changes in national moods that … ahem … can be produced by the massively unpopular bills they author.

Let’s look at the major players in health care reform, their positions in the House, plus Obama’s share of the vote in their districts:

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, 85%

Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader, 66%

James Clyburn, Majority Whip, 64%

George Miller, Education and Labor Chairman, 72%

Robert Andrews, Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Chairman, 65%

Henry Waxman, Energy and Commerce Chairman, 70%

Frank Pallone, Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health Chairman, 60%

Charlie Rangel, Ways & Means Chairman (during health care debate, at least), 93%

Pete Stark, Ways & Means Subcommittee on Health Chairman, 74%

There has been a lot of ink spilled on why Obama’s first half of his first term has gone wrong, and the above numbers point to my long-held view of matters.  The president’s emphasis has been on domestic policy, which means Congress has been the primary vehicle for reform.  But the Democratic-controlled Congress is run by and large by the liberals, thanks in no small part to the seniority rule that governs committee chairmanships. By outsourcing the construction of Obamacare practically entirely to them, he ended up having to support a bill that was well to the left of the swing voters who installed him in office. 

What about the members in purple districts who gave the bill its needed support?  Liberal analysts have dutifully informed us that the relationship between health care and the Democrats’ midterm woes is underdetermined, which means there is not enough evidence to demonstrate that there is a relationship.

Of course, if your evidentiary standard is strict enough, you can claim that any theory is underdetermined, including the theory of gravity!  And if we examine the 39 Democrats running for reelection in congressional districts that voted for McCain, we find some interesting results.  17 of these 39 Democrats voted for Obamacare.  Of those 17, Charlie Cook now rates 14 of them as in toss-up races while only 3 are in “Lean Democrat” races.

22 of the 39 voted against Obamacare, and they fare much better.  Just 6 of them are in toss-ups, 8 are in the “Lean Democrat” category, 5 are in the “Likely Democrat” category, and 3 are currently listed as safe.  Those safe Democrats include Gene Taylor (MS-4) and Dan Boren (OK-2), whose districts gave John McCain 67 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

But, don’t you worry.  The argument is still underdetermined!

Keep those questions coming!  jay.p.cost@gmail.com

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