EJ Dionne has a typically smart piece at TNR about how the Democrats can avoid disaster in November’s midterms. They will obviously lose some seats, but this doesn’t need to be a repeat of 1994.Richard Cohen, though, is worried that Obama is off his game, which bodes very badly for the midterms.
It seems to me that while the administration has a lot of genuine achievements, it has created a huge political problem for itself by going out of its way to alienate its strongest supporters. Theoretically, helath care reform will bring many back to the fold, but the inevitable compromises of the dysfunctional Senate have, if anything, dampened Democratic energy.
Usually, Presidents handle this problem by taking executive actions to shore up the base, but Rahm Emanuel seems to know only one play: tell liberals to STFU. That might work sometimes, but not in a midterm.
What to do now?
1) Obama should take some high-profile measures regarding Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He should publicly refuse to dismiss talented linguists who are gay, for example, on national security grounds. He has the authority to do this.
2) If and when there is a SCOTUS retirement, he should appoint someone who will unify the base and drive the Reps crazy while appealing to the center. My own preferred option is Kathleen Sullivan, the former Dean of Stanford Law School, one of the leading constitutional scholars in the country, and openly gay.
3) Strong moves on appellate judges. No backing off. Lots of action regarding up or down votes. This will help build momentum for filibuster reform at the beginning of the 2011 session.
4) Putting reimportation into the 2010 reconciliation bill, and other goodies.
5) The head of Larry Summers on a platter; maybe replace him with Elizabeth Warren.
6) STRONG pushes on very tough financial regulation, forcing the Republicans to defend the bankers. The GOP has already said that it will oppose any unified Consumer Protection Agency. Let them.
This isn’t hard. It makes for good policy and good politics. Whether Rahm understands that is a totally different question.