Even the Gipper can’t save the Democrats this year

Jim Kessler, who worked for then-Rep. Charles Schumer in 1994, argues that the Democrats can survive the 2010 midterms “the Reagan” way – i.e., the way the Republicans survived in 1982. Most of his argument consists, though, of trying to convince us that the Dems have a much better hand this year than they did in 1994.
We won’t know for two months whether 2010 will be a better or worse year for the Democrats than 1994 was. But Kessler’s arguments are not persuasive.
Kessler takes solace from the fact that “Nancy Pelosi is not Tom Foley.” That’s true – Foley (the Speaker in 1994) wasn’t a factor in any race but his own; Pelosi is widely and strongly disliked, and thus will weigh down Democrats across the country.
Kessler also points out that “John Boehner is not Newt Gingrich.” True again. But the enthusiasm generated by the Contract With America in 1994 need not be generated out of Washington this year — the grassroots will fill the void. Indeed, because the Republican brand is not as popular as it was in 1994 (when memories of the Reagan administration were still vivid), a less-known, less-controversial Republican House leader may suit Republicans best this time out.
Next, Kessler reminds us that “Charlie Rangel is not Don Rostenkowski.” In other words, there was more blatant corruption by Democratic Congressmen back then. But the Democrats of that era hadn’t just ridden to power promising to clean things up. And, even apart from the hypocrisy issue, the public’s standards probably weren’t as high back then. For example, earmarks had not yet become a dirty word.
Kessler notes that “Tom Periello is not Jack Brooks.” He means that in 1994, many Democratic incumbents had held their seats for decades and “had forgotten how to run and raise money.” By contrast, most of the vulnerable incumbents this time are “young, hungry, and battle-tested.” But, unlike their elderly counterparts in 1994, they tend to come from districts that are red, or at least not blue.
That certainly is true of Periello, who is trailing in the polls by something like 20 points. He may be young and hungry, but he and many like him were elected only as a result of the Democrat-friendly environment of 2006 and/or 2008. Thus, they aren’t as “tested” as Kessler supposes.
Kessler’s last point of comparison is that “Obamacare is not Hillarycare.” Correct. Hillarycare didn’t pass, and thus only left Americans upset. Obamacare was pushed into law against the strong wishes of a clear majority of Americans. It has left a great many of them incensed.
Finally, Kessler urges Obama to use Reagan’s 1982 playbook “by offering a more positive powerful, muscular view of what this country can achieve.” But Obama doesn’t do “powerful and muscular” well, at least not in the same sentence as “America.” And for a good reason – he is ambivalent about such an America. Reagan’s belief in that American was not only genuine, but consuming. Thus, he could run that “play” in good times and bad. Obama might be able to run it semi-convincingly in good times, but not now.