Second term diminishing Dems' prospects
By Salena Zito
Published: Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
It is possible that everyone misread the results of the 2012 presidential election. Or, perhaps, over-read them.
As political strategists and number-crunchers try to predict how the electorate feels and which party is capturing voters' imaginations, they struggle with how to dissect the realities of 2014 and 2016 as seen from the vantage point of 2012.
Two trends are going on in American politics — the six-year itch and the after-effects of a class-warfare election cycle.
The first is almost a fixture of American politics: Re-elected presidents get arrogant, out of touch and complacent; they stop listening, stop trying to meet voters where they are.
A president's first term often is one for the voters. The second one often is for the president's ego.
This is not unique to Barack Obama. It has happened to many presidents (think of George W. Bush and his largely ignored plan to reform Social Security), and it is why opposition parties almost always gain seats in a president's second midterm cycle.
Yet, in Obama, you have a president who chose to run his second-term campaign almost devoid of an agenda. His campaign focused almost entirely on character assassination, portraying Mitt Romney as a heartless corporate raider who didn't care about average Americans.
Obama chose to say almost nothing about what he would do in a second term and, interestingly, chose not to brag about anything he'd done in his first term.
You get the mandates you ask for in elections. And Obama's only mandate is that he is not Mitt Romney.
This brings Obama well into his second term with no equity on issues.
Nor has he chosen to use his re-election as a pivot toward the center of the country, something that has baffled many Democrats.
Shifting to the middle was something that Bill Clinton did masterfully, with comprehensive welfare reform and a balanced-budget deal with a Republican-controlled House.
It almost seems as if Obama's defining political experience was to move left when he was battling Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries and that has become his default reaction every time he gets in trouble.
Such a shift has never worked for anyone in American politics beyond the context of a political primary — which explains why a Gallup poll last week showed Democrats losing ground on the economy and national security, two of Americans' biggest concerns.
The poll showed Democrats had lost more than 10 points on the question of which political party is best able to maintain prosperity in America. They also dropped on questions about which party is best able to manage national security and about overall problem-solving.
Democrats are worried about the lack of confidence in their brand and are beginning to admit what Republicans have been saying for a while — that the election and the re-election of Barack Obama were singular events, not the fundamental realignment that political pundits and flacks like to proclaim.
This column has often discussed the disconnection between Obama's Washington and America's Main Street, since evidence of a “wave” election began to form in the summer of 2009. In election after election since that time, Republicans have won seats or even whole legislative chambers across the country in areas they had no business winning, which led many political observers to believe the president was doomed to lose last year.
He didn't lose. Instead, Americans who showed up to vote (and many did not) gave him a pass for a host of reasons, none of which had to do with his experience, his handling of issues or crises, or even his governing style.
That was a gut punch for the Romney campaign — but it may turn into more of a sucker punch for Democrats who are looking forward to the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.
Obama's recent failings on Syria, and his ill-timed partisan speech following a mass murder not far from the White House, are not new behavioral patterns. This is who he has always been.
It just appears that his supporters have taken notice of that persona now, as they prepare for the next election cycle and realize that Democrats are much more fractured than Republicans.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or email@example.com).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.