The Campaign Spot

To E.J. Dionne, Democratic Fortunes Are Always Looking Up

E.J. Dionne, today, writing about the financial-reform proposal:

Suddenly, it’s Democrats — and, in particular, the often conflict-averse Obama — who are relishing a fight. This raises what might be the essential question for November: Can Democrats finally put the Republicans on the defensive? Obama is betting that they can.

This is the same E. J. Dionne who wrote last October 29:

In New Jersey, by contrast, incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine has hugged Obama as hard as he could, and the election has been moving his way . . . According to a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday, Daggett is drawing roughly three votes from Christie for every two he is taking from Corzine. The poll gave Corzine, who has trailed for much of the year, a lead of 43 percent to 38 percent.

Of course, Christie won by 4 percentage points, and won a lot of counties and communities that had been tough for Republicans for the past decade. There’s no shame in a bad prediction; even I suspected, in a supremely cynical moment, that the Corzine campaign would “find” enough last-minute votes in Camden and Trenton to eke out a victory.

But when looking at politics and trying to get a sense of how things will play out, there’s always the temptation to see what you want to see. For the past year, just about every other Dionne column has been a variation of “things aren’t as bad for Democrats as they seem,” and yet few would doubt they’ve had a thoroughly bruising year. It’s not just Christie and Bob McDonnell and Scott Brown; it’s also GOP victories in some of the most unlikely places and races, like Nassau County executive and Westchester County executive and Pennsylvania’s state supreme court. There’s a strong argument that this era of all-Democratic governance has fundamentally damaged the party’s image with a lot of voters who gave Obama and his party a shot in 2008.

Could Democrats greatly mitigate their losses between now and November? Sure. But I doubt that beating the populist drum about Wall Street will be sufficient. There will need to be real declines in unemployment – not just a tenth of a percentage point here and there, but visible and tangible changes – for them to change a fundamentally difficult political environment.