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President Obama "Blew It" -- Again

President Obama "Blew It" -- Again

By Tom Bevan - December 3, 2014

A long-running joke in Washington, D.C., is that the most dangerous place in town is between Chuck Schumer and a television camera.  But Democrats weren’t laughing last week when the senior senator from New York stepped in front of the cameras at the National Press Club and pronounced that his party “blew it” by turning its attention in early 2009 to passing a massive restructuring of the American health care system.

“After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle-class-oriented programs and build on the partial success of the stimulus,” Schumer said. “Unfortunately, Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all our focus on the wrong problem. … It wasn’t the change we were hired to make. Americans were crying out for the end to the recession, higher wages and more jobs, and not changes in health care.”

Fast-forward to November 2014. The day after the Democrats got thumped in a second consecutive midterm, President Obama stepped to the podium at a post-election press conference and declared, “To everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you too.” 

Setting aside Obama’s petulant reference to the silent majority he believes let him down by staying home, the president’s takeaway from the election was that Americans really wanted Washington to work together to “get things done.”

So he chose as his first order of business an executive action that would foster enmity and make it harder for all parties involved to come together to get things done. But if one follows Chuck Schumer’s logic, Obama was repeating the exact same mistake he and his party made in 2009.

The exits polls were pretty clear about what voters were telling the Democrats in the November elections: They’re still concerned, first and foremost, with the precarious state of the economy. Seventy-nine percent of midterm voters said they were “somewhat worried” or “very worried” about current economic conditions. Some 70 percent said they believed current national economic conditions were “not so good” or “poor.” And 68 percent said the U.S. economy is “staying about the same” or “getting worse.”

Nearly half the electorate (45 percent) said the economy was the “most important issue facing the country today” – 20 points higher than any other issue mentioned. By contrast, only 14 percent said the same about illegal immigration.

Yet the president chose to make changing immigration policy his top priority. 

Schumer said that when Democrats focused so heavily on health care in early 2009, “the average middle-class person thought ‘the Democrats are not paying enough attention to me.’” It’s hard to imagine middle-class voters feeling any differently this time around.

They might even feel worse. Schumer rightly diagnosed a major symptom of the ongoing (and growing) middle-class squeeze over the last two decades: stagnating wages. There’s some evidence that Obama’s executive action, which will provide work permits to millions of people here illegally, could exacerbate the problem by putting further downward pressure on wages, particularly among unskilled laborers and the working class. Even if it doesn’t, his inexplicable inattentiveness to the public mood bodes poorly for his political party.

Meanwhile, Obama remains adamantly opposed to building the Keystone XL pipeline, and the White House worked hard behind the scenes earlier this week to scuttle a bipartisan package of tax cuts for businesses. One might forgive middle-class voters for openly questioning just how committed the president is to working with Congress to “get things done” on the economy.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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