Unlike FDR, the first year big government measures were not focused on the economy. The stimulus measure was primarily a big social services bill. The health care bill became the boondoggle of Obama’s political capital. The big jobs bill did not come, even as Americans experienced the worst unemployment rate in more than a quarter century.
Yet Obama won on the economy, above all else. The pretense of realignment always depended on the opposite read. Republicans’ implosion, demographic trends and rising progressive values were to have built this new Democratic majority. But we knew from tracking polls that Obama only garnered majority support after the market crashed.
Obama’s mandate was not consumed with the very issue that sealed his coalition. Obama had campaigned on the health care bill. But the economic crisis was the central reason his campaign had won more of the electorate than any Democrat in four decades.
And Obama did it with the middle. In 2008, Obama’s margin with moderates was three times larger than the two previous Democratic nominees. Now that middle is restless.