Thursday, July 15, 2010

Midterm Referendum

The Senate passed financial reform legislation that President Barack Obama will sign into law next Wednesday. This legislation will address many of the problems that led to the near total collapse of the American economy.

This is the latest in an impressive list of successes by President Obama, which should be winning him praise from Americans and political pundits. Yet the President continues to struggle in national polls and his party's control of Congress is threatened.

Just look at the huge legislative victories the Obama White House has had since taking office. Last year Congress, over fierce Republican opposition, passed a $787 billion stimulus package that has saved or added more than 2.5 million jobs since it was enacted according to many estimates. The president continued the TARP program for ailing banks and invested in the failing American auto industry. The large banks have now repaid their loans with interest and are experiencing robust profits, and the U.S. auto industry is surging back as well.

In an historic move, and following a brutal battle, President Obama was able to sign major health care reform legislation into law, which extends coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans and eliminated pre-existing conditions as an insurance loophole. President Obama also appointed the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that will enable women to be paid equally to men for their work.

Nonetheless, a stubbornly high unemployment rate and slowly recovering economy, a burgeoning national debt, a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, continue to weigh heavily on the Obama presidency. And Republicans are doing all they can to focus the attention of Americans on these issues despite the fact that they had a major hand in creating the mess.

As a consequence, Democrats face the real prospect of losing control of the House of Representatives during this fall's Midterm elections. Of course the party in power usually does suffer loses during these elections, but many Democrats who won in Republican districts because of Obama are now vulnerable.

The Republican agenda is to make this coming election a referendum on President Obama. For sure the president's approval ratings are down. But the Republican Party's approval ratings are significantly lower. And it is no surprise because, other than saying no to health care reform, to financial reform and apologizing to BP for the way it has been treated by the White House, it appears that their big idea is to extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy. They do not offer a "Contract with America" that helped them win the 1994 Midterms.

The White House and the Democratic Party must energize voters this November, especially independents, to retain control. This will be a major challenge with unemployment at nearly 10%. It must also get members of the progressive wing of its party to enthusiastically embrace the president's achievements even if they view them as not going far enough.

Democrats, the White House and President Obama must more effectively and passionately communicate to the voters that under their leadership the country is moving in the right direction again. And the focus of their agenda must be to create jobs.

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