The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Monday, March 17, 2014

White Lie versus Whitewash

The Magnitude of Democratic Spin over Florida 13

Now that the dust has settled on the Florida 13 special election, let me offer a few thoughts on the deceptive spins placed on the results by each Party.

I will start with the Republicans because there is far less to criticize.  Many on the right have been crowing that a GOP victory came despite the fact that Democratic challenger Alex Sink outraised/outspent the eventual Republican victor David Jolly by a 4:1 margin.  They argue this demonstrates the extreme toxicity of Obamacare against Democratic candidates.
Republican victor David Jolly (left),
Democratic challenger Alex Sink (right)

It is true that Sink outraised Jolly by the substantial margin cited.  However, money raised is not equivalent to money spent and the 4:1 ratio ignores the obscene gobs of outside money poured into this election by PACs and other special interest groups, both left and right.  It is disingenuous to pretend the campaign ads paid for by this money were any less effective influencing voters. 

Outside Republican interests slightly outspent their Democratic counterparts.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, the final count was approximately $4.65 million by Democrats over $3.57 million by Republicans.  This is still a hefty advantage but translates to a ratio of more like 1.3 to 1 – a far less overwhelming deficit to have overcome than advertised.

However, this little white lie pales in comparison to the fog of obfuscation generated by Democrats over the (non-)role played by Obamacare in the race.  Sure, they concede, it was disappointing to lose a House race in a district that has been friendly toward President Obama in the last two Presidential elections.  And, yes, Republicans used the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a single overriding issue.  However, turnout was light and the margin relatively close.  Rather than an indictment of Obamacare, it was a failure to turn out the Democratic base in a non-national election year.

Sink did not run away from health-care reform.  Instead, she embraced it as a good idea that needed changes to work better rather than a disaster necessitating repeal.  Democrats can cite numerous polls to suggest this is a solid strategy heading into November. 

A recent CNN poll found only thirty-nine percent of Americans favor the ACA law, while fifty-seven percent oppose it.  Yet only thirty-nine percent oppose the law because it’s “too liberal,” while twelve percent say it “isn’t liberal enough.”  This translates to an advantage of fifty-one percent among those who wish to keep the law, with varying types/degrees of tweaks, as opposed to forty-five percent favoring outright repeal.  A CBS News poll from January confirms those numbers, with fifty-six percent supporting the law with changes versus thirty-four percent calling for complete repeal.

It all sounds warm and comforting until we consider that the November midterms were always going to be harsher ground for Democrats than Florida 13.  Simply through random issues of timing, a majority of the House races and virtually all of the Senate races this year are in districts where Obama is highly unpopular – before, during, and after the botched rollouts of the ACA website and exchanges.

It does not matter if Obamacare is less toxic than Republicans hoped it might be nationally.  It well may be toxic enough in the places where it counts to sweep away reasonable Democratic arguments with right-wing partisan fervor.  There are polls with ominous warnings for Democrats. 

A March Bloomberg poll shows seventy-three percent of those favoring repeal say a candidate’s position on Obamacare will be a “major” decider of their vote, compared with only  forty-five percent of those who support modifications and thirty-three percent of those who back the law as is.  Likewise, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that forty-seven percent of voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports repeal compared to thirty-two percent who say they are less likely.  In contract, voters are about evenly split over candidates who support keeping and fixing the health-care law.

Suddenly the turnout problem becomes more knotty for Democrats.  They must maximize enthusiasm for the law where little exists and where enthusiasm for repeal is already maximized/maximizing.

There is evidence for growing acceptance of the ACA among all facets of the electorate, even as approval for it remains stagnant.    Democrats had been hoping against hope this acceptance could be parlayed into a midterm elections strategy that might not only hold their Senate advantage but gain them seats in the House.  The Florida 13 race suggests this strategy is not practicable.

The most likely outcome for Democrats this November is losses in both houses of Congress, including a real possibility for losing control of the Senate.  Although hatred of the ACA is overstated by Republicans, there is genuine dissatisfaction with the way President Obama and his Administration are currently handling it.  This will be extremely difficult for Democrats to overcome in the next eight months, especially given new discipline by the GOP has shown in avoiding embarrassing far-right candidates.

True, a big victory this year might cause Republicans to overestimate the mandate they have been given as regards ACA repeal.  This, is turn, could result in a backlash that will benefit Democrats in the 2016 Presidential election.  However, this year looks very bleak for Democrats and all the whitewash in the world will not make it brighter.  If Democrats don’t see that and start preparing for it, then they are telling the most toxic lie possible politically – they are lying to themselves.

No comments: