Obamanomics to blame for historic Democratic midterm collapse

November 3, 2010

It wasn’t just the economy, stupid. The historic losses suffered Tuesday by Democrats in the U.S. midterm elections owe as much to the unpopular and off-point agenda of President Barack Obama as it does to high unemployment. A policy pivot might have limited the damage, but the White House failed to recognize the trouble until too late.

Of course, Democrats will understandably be tempted to blame the debacle almost entirely on the undeniably poisoned chalice George W. Bush handed them. The Great Recession was of a sort Americans hadn’t experienced since the one Franklin Roosevelt encountered. The two previous downturns were brief and job losses minor. Even now, Americans are as gloomy as they were at the downturn’s depths.

But if the American public was blindsided, so was the White House. It recklessly predicted unemployment would never reach 8 percent if Congress passed its $816 billion stimulus plan. The economic team was also dismissive, even through this spring, of the notion that the U.S economy would suffer the slow-growth aftermath that typically follows deep financial crises.

Still, the magnitude of Democratic losses – the worst drubbing in the House since the 1930s — certainly hints more at play than just economic frustration. In the 1982 midterms, for instance, Republicans lost just 26 House and zero Senate seats despite unemployment cresting at 10.8 percent. The damage was much worse in 1994 — Democrats lost 54 House seats and 8 in the Senate — when unhappiness over President Bill Clinton’s healthcare plan offset a growing economy.

Likewise, voters saw the passage of Obama’s healthcare reform, which helped spawn the Tea Party movement, as at best a distraction from job creation. To this day, as many as two thirds of Americans polled think the stimulus was mostly a waste of money. That might be an overly harsh assessment. But even the White House admits the plan’s “shovel-ready” spending took too long to implement. And instead of cuts in marginal tax rates or payroll taxes, Team Obama chose poorly structured tax credits.

Despite plunging polls, business complaints about regulatory uncertainty and populist rhetoric, and the stunning loss Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat last January, there was no major course correction. To the White House, it was all just a bunch of whining. It was only in September that the administration finally proposed a “second stimulus” of business tax cuts that were too little, too late to change the political or economic dynamic. The economy made a Republican win almost inevitable, but Obamanomics made it a wipeout.

12 comments

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You missed the real issue. We are tired of government mandated redistribution of wealth. If the government will quit giving handouts, the people will return to work and budget will be balanced.

Posted by vrdude | Report as abusive

‘To the White House, it was all just a bunch of whining.’

That one statement sums it up nicely. The question now is whether the GOP will be smart enough to let the Obama administration defeat itself. A tricky manoeuvre, no question, but the arrogance and insularity of Mr. Obama and his team can work in the GOP’s favour. Give the Democrats enough rope and these guys will eventually hang themselves! Patience, and cunning, is called for.

Posted by Gotthardbahn | Report as abusive

Obama rose all the way to the White House on his oratory skills alone. But once he is in the White House, people want to see action, not words. He doesn’t have a clue how to go about tackling the country’s urgent problems: soaring healthcare costs, illegal immigration, unemployment and weak economy. As for his infamous and untimely healthcare reform, how is he going to finance regulations such as subsidies for low-income families, non-exclusion of pre-existing conditions and non-cancellation of insurance based on high healthcare costs? Requiring everyone to buy health insurance is supposed to balance the cost but it will be political suicide to impose this regulation on Americans who are still reeling under housing bust, unemployment and weak economy. In the meantime, we see health insurance premiums spinning out of control, companies eliminating or cutting their healthcare coverage for their employees, and the country’s other pressing problems unresolved by a president who is too busy chasing his own agenda. Yes, electing the Republicans may not be the answer but how else are we supposed to express our dissatisfaction or restrain Obama’s follies? How else are we going to stop this president plunging the country further into debt? I’m a registered democrat but if the democrats do not come up with an alternative candidate in 2012, I will not only vote Republican but rally other democrats to do the same.

Posted by mtta | Report as abusive

You missed the real issue. We are tired of stop signs being red. If the government quits making stop signs the wrong color, the people will return to work and the budget will be balanced.

Posted by DJjefferson | Report as abusive

Honestly, though, the polls were “plunging” for Obama a whopping six months after his inauguration. The American public handed him arguably one of the worst economic situations in American history, and told him “fix it, NOW!” He was elected on a platform of hope and change, but the American people expected him to fix the economy almost over night.

Perhaps his agenda was off topic, sure. But that was also exacerbated by the very party Americans just voted into power in the House, the Republicans, and their absolute refusal to cooperate in any way with the other side of the aisle, Obama included. With a supermajority, one would think that this would be irrelevant, however, the Democrats don’t have the same type of unyielding and almost dogmatic party loyalty that the Republicans have demonstrated at times. The supermajority existed in name only, while Congress was practically stymied with every major piece of legislation they tried to pass.

Does Obama carry some of the blame for this election? Sure, all presidents do during mid-terms (unless they have a war behind which to hide). Once it was clear that his party wasn’t going to support him the way the other party opposed him he should have changed targets and tackled the issues that the American people were crying about. But is this a scathing indictment of his ability as the US President? No. This election is just further evidence that the American electoral base consists of wingnuts who will vote for whomever the party tells them, and the easily manipulated (by BOTH parties) moderates who have unrealistic expectations of the system as a whole.

Without a war or major catastrophe upon which to hang one’s hat, whoever is in power will find themselves unable to please the masses and all of their differing demands. Without the outside enemy to divert attention, those in power will never gain the support of the other side, and will always end up losing the support of those voters too moderate to have a side and too impatient to let policy take effect.

The point is, this isn’t Obama’s fault, just as every problem during Bush’s administration wasn’t his. This is our fault. We’re the ones constantly changing our minds about who we think can “get the job done.” We’re the ones too impatient to let it happen. We’re the ones who can’t compromise on the most basic of American principles. We’re the ones who would rather base our decisions solely off of the sound-bites we hear from Fox News or MSNBC. Those we elect are universally turned into scapegoats for our own flaws. They are reflections of us.

Posted by shawngrggs | Report as abusive

I totally disagree with shawngrggs. It completely discounts the fact that there are informed people who have been closely monitoring the developments and Obama agenda. To brush it all of as the American people being “impatient” isn’t the case at all. Yes – Obama inherited problems but he did not address any of these issues and try to solve for them. He had his agenda and what he wanted to accomplish – irrespective of what the very people who voted for him wanted. He is so far out of touch that he did not gain the publics confidence – he lost them when he established himself as being morally and intellectually superior – in his mind. He is very much like the Emperor with no clothes – believing in his own greatness to the exclusion of all else. He has been arrogant and blindly faithful to his personal dogma – believing that he is the only one who knows best for the “people”. That is why he lost the house – plain and simple. People simply don’t trust him or his co-horts.

Posted by vondohren | Report as abusive

More terrible analysis. At least this one is correctly marked as an opinion column. Again Health Care Reform is mentioned as a negative, when in reality it reduces the deficit. Also, Pethokoukis is supposedly a professional columnist, yet he starts his argument with a blatant insult directed at those he disagrees with. Clearly he’s not open to rational debate on the subject.

Posted by TrueIronPatriot | Report as abusive

First sentence you call the reader “stupid”? This article is stupid. Americans are all about “me” and “now”. Eight years of grossly failed government, stripped of basic rights which were suppose to make us different than any other democracy. Yet eight years should be corrected in just two? A country of puppets we’ve become, how easily we can be scared into thinking anything we are told.
To Reuters, continue to allow writers like this and you will quickly become FOX News. I come to this site for FACT not one persons opinion. Shame

Posted by voicebox | Report as abusive

TrueIronPatriot: Mr. P’s opening remark was not an insult, but a paraphasing of a remark made by 1992 Democrat presidential nominee william Jefferson ‘Bill’ Clinton. The precise remark was ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ and it was directed towards George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election campaign. As I recall, it was an effective remark.

Posted by Gotthardbahn | Report as abusive

After fewer than 18 months, the Republicans claimed that the economy was this administration’s economy. The electorate clearly made that assessment on election day. We can only hope that the GOP/Tea Party recognize that as of 2011, it is their economy. They will be held accountable for whatever situation we find ourselves in 2012.

The last time the Dems handed over an economy, it was in surplus and the Republicans drove it into the ground. While nothing to write home about, the current economy being handed over is stable and growing slowly – which just rimmed-out of the depression basket.

If the GOP causes a second, possibly worse depression, and or can’t significantly decease unemployment over the next eighteen months, let’s hope the electorate uses the same unit of measure/reward in 2012.

Posted by wishing | Report as abusive

Clueless, absolutely clueless… The “chalice” was not poisoned by Bush, but by a Democratic Congress with full control for two years before Bush left office. And as for, “But if the American public was blindsided, so was the White House.”… i do not know where you have been living, the American public has been chomping at the bit to deliver this beat down and if there was another election next week with the ones we didn’t get the chance to vote on yesterday on the ballot, we would deliver more. The only people blindsided are those too arrogant to admit that the average working class American is a whole lot smarter than you liberals what to give us credit for and a whole lot more conservative. Stop believing your own media spin.

Posted by JeffreyRobison | Report as abusive

shawngrggs – “The American public handed him arguably one of the worst economic situations in American history, and told him “fix it, NOW!””

The American public didn’t hand him anything. The economic situation that we’re in right now was created by the Govt not the public. The fact is, this is a country of booms and bust……it always has been and it always will be. That’s how free market enterprise works. You can’t be in a perpetual boom forever. At some point it has to go the other way. The problem with the Govt is they’re always trying to “fix” the problem by passing some enormous expensive piece of legislation that really does nothing but make doing business harder which results in less jobs being created and longer bust periods. If we would just let the busts happen and stop trying to fix everything with some ridiculous law we’d all be much better off.

Posted by FiosFiend | Report as abusive

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