Posted by rflacks on:
I'm writing just a couple of hours before Obama's West Point speech, hoping but not expecting that he will find a way to reassure his base that he is the guy we worked to elect. I'll reserve comment on the war till after he talks, but right now I want you to look at the above chart, drawn from the Daily Koz weekly tracking poll. These numbers tell us that the Democrats are going to lose the elections in 2010, but the underlying data are even more disturbing. They show that the heart of Obama;s support base is not planning to vote next year. Fifty four percent of blacks in the survey say they probably won't vote. The majority of voters under thirty say the same. On the other hand, two thirds of older voters plan to vote. Obama's strongest regional support comes from the north east; his weakest support in the South. Two thirds of southern voters are planning to vote next year, but less than half of north-easterners say the will vote. The elections a few weeks ago in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere had turnouts comparable to these survey results-the conservative, white, older base is energized. The progressive base is not.
Minority and young folks are the hardest hit by the jobs crisis and the housing crisis and at the same time they were among those with the greatest hope for change in the 2008 election. It's not unreasonable to see their voting behavior and intentions as a form of protest. They are going on strike at the polls and one might conjecture that is because their hopes for change have been met with reversal of fortune.
The same sort of disillusionment pervades the ranks of liberal and progressive activists. Each week we can add new instances of administration betrayal of our hopes. The latest include the handling of the Honduras coup (defying near unanimity in the rest of the hemisphere), and the continuation of Bush policies on the land mine treaty. The escalation of the war dwarfs all these other failures.
I've said in this space that it's the structure of power in America rather than Obama's weakness of will that accounts for the growing feeling that the chances for progressive reform are slipping away. Like many other progressive activists, I've stressed that grassroots collective action that demands fulfillment of progressive promises can provide a counter to elite and conservative resistance to change. The threat embodied in the poll data should be read-by the administration and congress-as genuine protest.
Today I'm worried that white house strategists who do those readings may be be blinding themselves. The most respected of these is David Axelrod. He's quoted in yesterday's New York Times:
"I think people will have the ability to separate these issues," said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president. "There is a tremendous sense of purpose to get health care done. And wherever people stand on Afghanistan, I don't think it's going to dim their enthusiasm or impede their ability to get health care done."
The subtext is that the Obamaites believe that they can only get the healthcare bill passed they will keep their base energized and in line. Certainly, health care will be a plausible response to the disaffection. But it's a great miscalculation to think that it will be sufficient to reunite and re-energize the president's supporters.
Much is supposed to happen in the next few weeks. There will be a White House jobs conference, and a presidential tour, starting in Allentown PA, focused on jobs. Then he goes to Copenhagen and then on to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. What will he be offering other than symbolism? And, equally important, can these be occasions for grassroots voices to demand the real?