Democrats avoiding Obama like Ebola

by H.B. Koplowitz

A time-honored tradition during midterm elections is for candidates from the party of the incumbent president to act like the commander-in-chief has cooties. It’s also juvenile and pathetic. While it’s statistically true that the party of a president with a low approval rating tends to get “thumped” or “shellacked” during midterms, that same statistic indicates snubbing the president doesn’t help much. There’s also little evidence that remaining loyal to an unpopular president hurts a candidate’s chances, because so few of them have the integrity to try.

As the Nov. 4 midterm election looms, polls such as Gallup assert President Barack Obama’s approval rating is around 40 percent. Forty percent is roughly the same chance the poll-cruncher website FiveThirtyEight gives the Democrats for holding onto the Senate. The conservative pollster Rasmussen claims Obama has a “Presidential Approval Index rating” of -17, based on its surveys that found only 23 percent of likely voters strongly approve of Obama’s performance as president, while 40 percent strongly disapprove. However, when those who weakly approve of the president’s performance are added in, Obama’s approval rating jumps up to around 47 percent, which is within the +/-3 percentage point margin of error of overall approval. And the votes of those who weakly approve of the president’s performance count just as much as those who strongly disapprove.

This year’s poster girl for presidential betrayal is of course Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky. During her uphill race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, she repeatedly refused to say whether she had even voted for Obama, turning herself into a national joke. But her snub is only the most notorious; other Democratic candidates have been avoiding Obama like Ebola, leaving unchallenged the Republican narrative that his presidency has been an unmitigated disaster. When asked if they support the president, the standard response from lily-livered Democrats is that the election is about local issues, not Obama, even though many so-called local issues, like health care and the minimum wage, are also national issues. That’s hardly the way to rally the base.

For example, in Florida, a mailer from the Palm Beach County Democratic Party says voters should cast their ballots for “leadership who will fight for the issues important to you,” including growing the economy, preserving the environment, protecting voting rights, restoring public education and protecting women’s rights. The mailer doesn’t mention Obama, even though those issues have all been championed by his administration.

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is trying to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott, once called Obamacare “great,” but not in his political commercials. Instead, the Scott campaign is using Crist’s remark against him in an attack ad. Under Scott, Florida is one of the states that opted out of the federal Medicaid expansion, denying an estimated 1 million residents health insurance, yet Crist has not made that a major issue in his campaign. One would think that if anyone needed to make a commitment to something, to anything, it would be Crist, who is a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat.

The problem for Crist and a lot of other candidates across the country, Democrat and Republican, is that their races are dead heats and they are more concerned about losing than winning. No one wants to commit a gaffe or say something controversial that might tip the scales in the wrong direction. So most candidates are pretending to be middle of the road, nonpartisan and independent, when they are anything but.

During this political season, it’s considered politically risky to support the president, and safe to bash him, which means the Republicans have a unifying theme while the Democrats do not. But if the measure of a president’s accomplishments is whether things are better than before he came into office, the argument can be made that the Obama presidency has been a success. As Paul Krugman notes in his Rolling Stone article, “In Defense of Obama,” despite GOP lawmakers treating the president like the new kid at a prep school, the economy is back, unemployment has shrunk to what it was before the Great Recession and the stock market has soared. He got America out of two wars, got chemical weapons out of Syria, got Osama bin Laden and got health care for a whole lot of people.

It’s too late now, but instead of trotting out the Clintons or Elizabeth Warren, it would have been refreshing to have seen some Democratic candidates invite Obama to campaign for them. They would have gotten some respect for loyalty, and standing up for their beliefs instead of with their fingers in the air, trying to figure out which way the wind was blowing. And who knows what might have happened if Democrats had rallied around Obama and said they didn’t care what anybody said, they were proud to support the president. If more Democratic candidates had the guts to defend Obama and his record, they might have been able to improve his approval rating, with a rising tide lifting all ships. Coulda shoulda woulda.

© H.B. Koplowitz 10/31/14

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