At this point, if you follow the available evidence, it seems likely that the Democrats will get a severe beating on election day. Absent some rebound, it seems highly likely that the Dems will lose control of the House of Representatives. And it even seems possible now that they could lose control of the Senate. On its face, it doesn’t seem clear that this should necessarily have such bad effects since President Obama can veto anything that moves through a Republican Congress. And it’s even argued that having a Republican Congress to pivot against could better President Obama’s chances of reelection in 2012. Finally, I think most partisans and analysts on both sides of the equation recognize that the story of this election, overwhelmingly, is the economy and the continuing devastating levels of unemployment.
As far as it goes, I suspect each of these suppositions are accurate.
What I’m curious about, though, is whether the Dems are ready for the sheer, shuddering, really just deafening chorus of defeatism and ideological self-doubt Democrats are going to face on November 3rd. I’ve learned from experience that you simply cannot make logical, linear predictions about how these events will play out. I’ve also learned, as much as each partisan side likes to grouse about its own tough luck, that Dems have a much tougher time dealing with those moments.
An example that comes to mind is from the Health Care Reform fight. Think before and after Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts on January 19th. It was remarkable. Not only were the Dems caught flatfooted by Brown’s surge. That was only the half of it. What was truly remarkable was that in the week or so before the election, when it was clear that there was a very real chance Brown would win, Dems had put together several different game plans for what they would do to salvage Reform. 1) They would push the bill through in the interval between Brown’s victory and his swearing in. 2) The House would just pass the Senate bill, even though it really still needed to be improved. 3) If all that didn’t work, hell, just push it through reconciliation, finish it up and move on.
Each of these options was quite feasible, quite doable. And yet the same night Brown won, there you had Barney Frank, Barney Frank, my god Barney Frank, putting out a press release saying, you know, it’s over. Fun while it lasted but that’s it. Health Care Reform is just going to have to wait another generation. Maybe it’ll be easier to pass … say, nine individual new bills rather than this one we’ve spent a year on that is on the six inch line. Hopefully some Republican senators will decide to help us. I’m still sort of shocked even remembering it.
Frank was just the stand-out since after all … Barney Frank. But he was hardly the only one. For the next week or so there was a veritable arctic avalanche of wussery. Eventually even the president was out there saying, well, even though I thought this was important enough to plow a year into during a crippling recession, well, heck, no harm in stepping back and getting a second opinion.
As we know, after a couple months, the Democrats were able to rally themselves and the whole thing finally got done. But it was a close run thing. And this was a single race. Yes, it was in a very blue state. But it was an off-year election and against a bad candidate. And Brown, frankly, ran a good race. And, remember, the Dems were within the one yard line.
And remember, November won’t be one senate race in Massachusetts. How well will Democrats stand up to the headline that says Republicans win 50 House seats?
And remember, it won’t be “Republicans win 50 House Seats.”
The headline will read “Angry Country Repudiates Obama Agenda, Embraces Small Government Conservative Values.” And that will be the Times. Believe me, it won’t be pretty.
In any case, a lot of folks are thinking, well, sure the Republicans take the House and maybe they even take the Senate. But Obama’s got the veto pen and the big legislation has already been pushed through. And if they come after Social Security, c’mon, let them try: Obama can veto whatever they pass. And they’ll kill themselves for 2012.
But all of this is based on the premise that the Democrats — congressional leaders and the White House — are going to be something like the same people on November 3rd as they were on November 1st. And a lot of painful history, the post-Scott Brown victory period being only the most recent example, says that’s a very bad assumption.