Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Always darkest... before the dawn, or the lights go out completely?

That the Democrats will lose seats in the House and Senate come November seems like a sure thing.  History says so: the incumbent presidential party almost always loses seats.  The economy says so: bad economic growth is bad for the incumbent party.  And polls say so: Gallup's generic D v. R Congressional poll recently had the score as R + 10.  It is worth discussing, though, if these are inevitable and what, if anything, could the Democrats do in the next 2 months to alter their fate?
You may recall from the 2008 campaign that this was also a dark time for the Democrats: the Republican convention was on the calendar, and John McCain had taken a lead in the generic poll:
It is hard to say what caused a reversal in Obama's fortune after McCain took the lead.  Was it simply a reversion to the status quo that had been established during the summer, where Obama was consistently ahead?  Was it people getting to know, then turning against, Sarah Palin?   Was it McCain's bizarre response to the economic crisis? 

The only reason I bring this up is because, during that late August/early September period -- and during the primary battle with Clinton -- Obama supports were begging, pleading, screaming for him to come out swinging.  People thought he was being too passive, but in the end, he prevailed.  Does that hold any lessons for the 2010 midterms?  What is Obama thinking?  Has he had some master plan all along, working under the assumption that there's no need to do anything until at least September because no one is paying attention?  Is Obama going to coordinate with Reid and Pelosi to make Republicans take unpopular votes?  That is something most now-apathetic Obama supporters have been waiting for them to do all along. 

Of course, you could certainly argue that such political theater won't affect the outcome of the midterms much at all.  Indeed, those who really push the economic angle think that the Dems defeat was sealed in January of '09 when a too-small stimulus bill was passed.  This is certainly Krugman's take, and I'm very sympathetic to that view.  But I still think that Obama's actions matter somewhat, at least at the margins, and that's where control of the House of Representatives will be either won or lost (and majority is everything in the House). 

The vote-master has more on this, and he's always worth reading.