Saturday, October 25, 2008

Politics: Democrats Not Trusted, But...

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - Back around Labor Day, during heady times for the Republican Party when presidential nominee John McCain actually had a lead in the polls, New York Times columnist David Brooks, speaking on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, predicted it wouldn't last. The country's mood was too anti-Republican, he stated. "The Republicans are like a football team with a weak offensive line," Brooks said. "They've done a few trick plays to keep it close, but pretty soon that offensive line will crack and they'll fall behind."

Indeed, the presidential race, at least based on recent polling, now looks much like the rest of the political landscape in the United States, greatly favoring Democrats. Their nominee, Barack Obama, has at least a seven point advantage nationwide in the polls and an even greater edge in the electoral college. It is now conceivable that Obama will win in a landslide, which political scientists normally define as gaining 375 electoral votes. 270 of 538 are required to win.

Yet, Democrats need to understand that this hasn't happened because they have earned the trust of voters. Quite to the contrary, the current party registration advantages that the Democrats are racking up in many states, reflected in Obama's margins, have mostly to do with the Republicans losing the trust of voters.

One need look no farther than the discourse of the campaign itself to see how little the Democrats are trusted. Even talk shows on National Public Radio, which tend to have a very favorable demographic for Democrats, callers complain about impending socialism and repeat the argument, seemingly only accepted in the United States, that times of economic weakness are not the time to raise taxes as it is perceived to kill economic growth. Even amongst people voting for Obama, there is a widespread belief that he will raise taxes since he is a Democrat. While the whole "Joe the Plumber" scenario in the campaign has become a convoluted mess, one clear thing that has come out of that discussion is that US citizens still believe that they have a chance to become rich, and don't believe they should be taxed more when they do--they don't believe in "spreading the wealth" even as they don't seem to understand what that phrase means. Callers to the moderate Dave Ross Show on KIRO in Seattle, a stronghold for the Democrats, complain that they don't want the government giving money to people that don't work as hard as they do. There is a clear feeling that if someone is poor, it is because of choices that they have made. All of these are ideas that have been touted by Republicans against the Democratic ideas for decades. In fact, a report on NPR's All Things Considered this week revealed that the most effective negative campaign language this year has been "congressional liberals." Last I checked, there weren't many liberal Republicans left. Some would say there are none in elected office.

So if voters do not appear to believe in the principles that Democrats believe in--and Barack Obama for the most part still purports to believe in--why are those same voters intending to vote for Barack Obama and Democrats down-ticket? The last eight years of the Bush administration have led them to trust Republicans even less than the Democrats. The public feels like it was lied to about the war in Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and no significant connection between deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the terrorist group Al Queda has been demonstrated.

Far more importantly, the recent financial collapse has soured the public on supply-side, free-market economics. As they watched their savings invested in the stock market be decimated and worried about their own jobs in a floundering economy, they blamed the Republicans. The ultimate moment came this week when Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Bank chairman and poster boy of free market economics, admitted that the principles he had believed in his entire adult life had been proven untrue. Apparently there is a place for at some, unspecified government involvement, even in Greenspan's mind.

In this backdrop, Barack Obama's calm response to the financial crisis while John McCain seemed to be running around like a chicken with his head cut off sealed the deal for voters. They may not fully trust Obama, but they know they don't trust the Republicans, and John McCain, whether he likes it or not, is a Republican.

Of course, just because they have had their current advantage handed to them by their opponents instead of earning it the hard way doesn't mean that the Democrats cannot capitalize on the opportunity. If, as it appears today, Barack Obama becomes the President and the Democrats control both houses of congress, they will have the opportunity to prove to the population of the US that they can govern better than the Republicans. They could leverage the position they find themselves in to great advantage. On the flip side, if they don't do a good job, they will not be able to blame the Republicans--there will no be excuses.

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