- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The political health of President Obama and his party can be summed up in one sentence: His legislative agenda is in shreds, his economic policies have failed, and Democratic prospects in the midterm elections are bleak at best.

The political events of the past two weeks have sent Mr. Obama and his party a message that for a long time they refused to hear and that some in the liberal Democratic base still refuse to accept.

It was a message President Clinton and his advisers understood from the very beginning: “It’s the economy, stupid!” Mr. Obama finally seems to be acknowledging that as the White House belatedly has begun talking up jobs in the midst of 17 percent unemployment.

Yet, down deep, he still seems to believe the problem isn’t his frayed agenda but the political mishandling of it.

He sent that message loud and clear when he brought his campaign manager, David Plouffe, into his inner White House circle within hours after Republican Scott Brown stunned Democratic leaders by winning the late Edward M. Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts. Mr. Scott won on a platform of killing the president’s health care plan, reducing taxes, cutting spending and making sure terrorist prisoners never see the inside of a civilian courtroom.

But by that time, Mr. Obama’s agenda was either dead, dying or in a coma. Obamacare as it has been formulated is dead, and a scaled-back version is at best in a stalemate unless Democrats shove it through the Senate under a shady procedure ironically called reconciliation. Nor will climate-change tax-and-trade ever see the light of day.

His so-called job-creating stimulus program is a colossal failure, with a recent CNN poll showing that three out of four Americans think most of the money has been wasted. Nearly two-thirds say the projects were chosen solely for political reasons and had no economic benefit.

Meantime, it is clear he has no viable Plan B, beyond another “stimulus” bill, which is waiting in the wings and will, in turn, waste still more money.

Political gunslinger Mr. Plouffe, meanwhile, may be good at what he does - playing politics with both guns blazing - but Mr. Obama’s problem isn’t politics, it’s policy. Americans do not like his proposals to put government in charge of their health care. They do not want to pay an energy tax every time they flip a light switch. They do not think jobs can be created from Washington by spending nearly $1 trillion on pork-barrel projects for favored political interests.

Mr. Plouffe demonstrated his policymaking ignorance in a recent Washington Post Op-Ed column when he came to the subject of jobs.

“Even without a difficult fiscal situation, the government can have only so much direct impact on job creation, on top of the millions of jobs created by the president’s early efforts to restart the economy,” he said.

In fact, government can have a huge impact on jobs through consistent policies that create an economic climate for capital formation, investment, risk-taking and incentives for work and wealth creation. He need only look to the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s or even the capital gains tax cuts Mr. Clinton signed to see how this works.

Mr. Plouffe also offers ideas like “green jobs” by dumping more money into pie-in-the-sky climate-change spending, but in the end, he throws up his hands and says that “full recovery will happen only when the private sector begins hiring in earnest.” No kidding? So why not give the private sector the tax-cut incentives to do that, instead of more borrowing and spending?

The jobless economy, he insists, is not Mr. Obama’s fault. “The recovery act has been stigmatized,” he complains. Yeah, by double-digit unemployment and the job-killing fear among Main Street businesses that they are going to be taxed more than they are now under Mr. Obama’s agenda.

Mr. Plouffe also was brought in to take control of the campaign committees and to repackage Mr. Obama and his message, but a political wave has been building over the past year that threatens to engulf the Democrats in the midterm elections. It appears to have accelerated in recent weeks.

In the Senate, independent election forecasters say Republicans are poised to win at least four more Democratic seats: in Arkansas, North Dakota, Delaware and Nevada, where Majority Leader Harry Reid is toast. At least three more of the party’s seats are tossups: in Illinois, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Right now, Democrats are facing at least a half dozen losses in the Senate, and that could run higher if unemployment remains in the 9 percent to 10 percent range in the fall (which Fed economists are still predicting).

In the House, the bleak political environment is already sending more Democrats into retirement, the latest being Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas - the fifth Democrat to call it quits in the past few months. More retirements are expected. Heading into this year, House Democrats were looking at potential losses of 20 to 30 seats. Now, some analysts are saying it is possible they could lose their majority.

Donald Lambro is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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