With many expert observers of American politics currently fretting over the “fracturing” of the Republican Party and its predicted negative impact on conservative prospects in the mid-terms, it’s possible that we are overlooking the erosion of the Democrats’ prospects under the stewardship of Barack Obama. At Real Clear Politics, Salena Zito looks at “the six year itch” which frequently affects the party in power during a president’s second term, general voter exhaustion with the status quo, and how it may be hitting the Democrats even harder than usual.
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.
If, as Zito suggests, a president’s first term is “for the voters” then one would assume it represents the laurels they rest upon when asking for a second term. And yet Barack Obama’s accomplishments seem largely forgotten as the second term agenda stalls. Yes, you may scoff at the use of the term “accomplishments” but for the Democrats there were at least a few big ticket items. Obamacare was passed. Taxes on the wealthy (and others, under the covers) were jacked up. The Iraq war ended. (Yes, yes… I know. Bush was already ending it when he left.) And the President signed an order to close Guantanamo. (Fair enough… it’s not really closed closed, but by golly, he signed the order.)
Perhaps Obama’s second term agenda was all about cementing his legacy, but what happened? Immigration reform? Stalled and barely on life support. Gun control? A pipe dream. And what of his tough guy efforts to brand his personal mark on foreign policy and the rest of the world? The current state of the Arab Spring answers that one.
Before anyone assumes that the GOP is imploding and the Democrats are poised to regain seats in Congress during the mid-terms because of their “insane” actions, I’ll close by asking you to consider Zito’s parting shot.
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.
Food for thought.