And it is precisely this anxiety that is such an impediment to empathy. They view themselves as only marginally better off than those they perceive as the recipients of new government benefits. They look at health care reform and worry that they have little or nothing to gain and much to lose. In the end, Democrats failed to tailor their salesmanship of health care reform to allay the qualms of these voters, of the white working class.

What this suggests is that many analyses of the elections of 2006 and 2008 only saw part of the picture. To many Democrats (and even some Republicans), the country appeared to be on the verge of a realignment driven by demography. This view was most persuasively articulated by Ruy Teixeira last March in a report for the Center for American Progress…

In practice, the decline of Democratic fortunes coincides with the growing perception that Obama’s three primary legislative initiatives–health care reform, cap-and-trade, and increased regulation of the financial sector–have failed to improve the daily lives of most voters, voters who are impacted by the worst economy in 70 years. At a time when many voters are frightened by unprecedented deficits, the threat of escalating health care costs and the likelihood of tax increases to pay for all this–Obama is being perceived as governing like a “tax and spend liberal.”