Working their way through the Kubler-Ross stages, political scientists and bloggers like Jonathan Bernstein and Ezra Klein are busy promoting the thesis that Pres. Obama and Democrats running for their lives in the 2010 midterms are victims of Vast, Impersonal Forces Beyond Their Control, i.e., the economy. Passing unpopular legislation and insulting most Americans along the way really does not matter. Dan Foster and Jonah Goldberg have already addressed Klein’s version of the argument, so I’ll focus more on Bernstein, who wrote:
It’s not complicated at all: Obama’s approval ratings have fallen because the economy stinks. End of story. Anything else is on the margins…and it’s certainly possible that everything else is pushing his ratings up, not down.
First, the effect that the economy has on the political environment is sufficiently obvious that we do not need political scientists to explain it (though I agree with Bernstein that the media could learn a few things from his field). Second, it will surprise no one that academia was not exactly rushing to excuse the GOP for the poor economy in 2008. Third, one need not be a psychic to predict that if the economy turns around in the next few years, academics and pundits will not be urging the media to report that Obama was lucky that he ran in 2008 and is again lucky in 2012. Such is the genius of the “neutral story line.”
However, perhaps the silliest part of this thesis is that what happens “on the margins” is unimportant. If the GOP wins, say, 60 seats in November, it would be huge — but it would represent less than 15% of the seats in the House. The 2010 midterms will be fought out in a relatively small number of districts. Many of those races will involve shifts of relatively small percentages of voters. The GOP will win the House (or not) “on the margins.”
In these marginal districts, Democrats are losing and Republicans are winning. And the battlegrounds continue to expand. The president’s own pollster, Joel Benenson, reports that voters have clearly rejected the administration’s policies and general approach to governance; those results will be worse in marginal districts than in the solidly blue districts where Democrats are often packed. The Left is finally admitting that Obama’s signature initiative is a political albatross. Bernstein must have missed the memo.
Accordingly, when I read Bernstein, Klein and others advancing the notion that the Democrats’ policy agenda is not dragging them down, I hear the pleading of “Joliet” Jake Blues:
However, the voters in swing districts currently seem less forgiving than Jake’s Mystery Woman.