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That election

November 3, 2010

Went to a post-election analysis event today with a former staffer for Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, Brian McClung, and the current Speaker of the Minnesota State House, Margaret Anderson Kelliher. The state-level context here is that the governor’s race is going to a recount, although it seems to be generally accepted that the DFL candidate is likely to win; on the other hand, Republicans took control of both the state House and Senate despite the DFL having a veto-proof majority in the Senate and a near veto-proof majority in the House.

So when McClung opened the panel by gloating openly, it seemed justified and actually not annoying at all. Kelliher, on the other hand, seemed to be in total denial. This wasn’t a true “wave” election, she said; if it had been, DFLers X, Y and Z would have also lost. “This is a story of very low turnout,” she said, which as far as I can tell isn’t just a terrible analysis, it’s actually factually untrue.

The two eventually turned to talking about state-level policy moving forward, and Kelliher appeared to regain her sensibility. But then there was a question about what Obama’s reaction to this election should be. McClung put forth a fairly predictable Republican response: Obama needs to see this as a repudiation of his policies; he has overreached and people are angry at all the government spending etc etc. Clinton got this message in 1994 and changed; Obama must do the same. (Moderator Larry Jacobs made a little crack about how it’s interesting that Republicans seem to have fallen in love with Clinton recently.)

Kelliher’s response was completely ineffective and questionably coherent. She agreed that Obama has to relate to voters better. “He has to get out of the White House and talk to real people,” she said, or something completely meaningless like that. Way to defend the foundations of Democratic economic policy in a recession, Ms. Speaker!

So, I linked to this yesterday, but it’s particularly relevant with this context in mind, and worth quoting at length. Robert Reich says:

Obama shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996 because he moved to the center. I was there. Clinton was reelected because by then the economy had come roaring back to life.

[…]

For the next two years Republicans will try to paint Obama as a big-government liberal out of touch with America, who’s responsible for the continuing bad economy.

Obama won’t be able to win this argument by moving to the center — seeking to paint himself as a smaller-government moderate. This only confirms the Republican’s views that the central issue is size of government, that it’s been too large, and the economy can improve only if it’s smaller.

On the Republican playing field, Republicans always win.

Obama’s best hope of reelection will be to reframe the debate, making the central issue the power of big businesses and Wall Street to gain economic advantage at the expense of the rest of us. This is the Democratic playing field, and it’s more relevant today than at any time since the 1930s.

[…]

The 2012 economy won’t be as bad as the 1936 economy, hopefully. But it won’t be nearly as good as the 1996 economy. For a president running in 2012, 1936 is the more relevant.

Flying Whale

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