The Democratic Party's Biggest Problem: Its Inability To Defend Itself
Whether on the campaign trail, in interviews or in congress, the Democratic Party has yet to effectively elaborate on just what it has done for the country. This error culminated in President Obama’s acceptance speech a few days ago during the Democratic National Convention (DNC).
The speech, riddled with messages about how he would continue to improve the current state of the country, failed to include emphasis on the president's specific crowning achievements, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (commonly known as the Stimulus) and the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare). Either out of fear or out of a lack of faith in his own achievements, President Obama has relied on references to his general successes, while allowing his opponents to slander his specific ones.
The acceptance speech is the best example of this fatal and persistent error on behalf of the Democratic Party. The president mentioned how we must rely on everyone to contribute their “fair share”, how our country needs “equal opportunity”, good schools, and “independent energy”, and how the opposing party offers no solutions. While these oversimplified lines do contain a certain degree of truth, they were not matched with specific policy. The party, then, failed to distinguish itself from the opposition, which uses the same rhetoric to reach entirely different conclusions.
In the realm of republican rhetoric, “fair share” ceases to mean that the wealthy must pay more in taxes, and instead means that job creators and businesses must stop receiving the entire burden of taxes. The meaning of “equal opportunity” instead becomes that government must stop trying to create a “welfare state”. Improving national education means getting rid of greedy public school teacher unions, and "independent energy" means “drill baby drill.” This problem of the dichotomy in political rhetoric automatically favors the opposition.
Obama is no longer the opposition. In 2008, the electorate knew that something was deeply wrong with the current state of the country. This knowledge provided credibility to the promises of a Senator from Illinois, who campaigned on change. The difference now is that Obama is defending his title. He can thus no longer simply rely on general rhetoric. His actions over the past three and a half years are being put on trial, and he has consistently refused to adequately defend them. The accomplishments he mentions repeatedly - namely, the bailout of GM and the death of Osama Bin Laden - are not lacking in significance, but they are of little relevance compared to two pieces of legislation passed within the first two years of Obama’s Presidency.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), passed within the first two months of Obama’s term, is the primary reason the United States did not continue to sink into a greater recession or a depression. Multiple public and private analysts have shown that the Stimulus significantly raised GDP to what it otherwise would have been over the past three years.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget office estimated that the ARRA, during 2009, raised real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to what it otherwise would have been by between 0.4 -1.8 percent. In 2010, those estimates ranged between 0.7-4.1 percent. This significant improvement to the nation's GDP continued into 2011 and 2012.
The ARRA also had a significant effect on unemployment, lowering the unemployment rate to what it otherwise would have been by between 0.1 and 0.5 percent in 2009, 0.4 and 1.8 percent in 2010, 0.2 and 1.4 percent in 2011, and 0.1 and 0.6 percent in 2012.
Therefore, the fact that the Democratic Party has shied away from championing their first, and arguably most effective, piece of legislation is inexcusable. It is understandable to want to shy away from dry (though important) numbers, but not from the bill those numbers support. The ARRA was specifically designed to aid low income families and small businesses hit hardest by the recession, and it worked.
The failure to mention the ARRA in his speech is rivaled only by the failure to mention one of the single most significant pieces of legislation passed since the great depression. President Obama achieved what every democratic president going back to FDR merely hoped to achieve: he passed universal healthcare.
It is important to note that the Affordable Care Act does not resemble the single payer model many democrats had hoped for. However, Obamacare “will increase the number of nonelderly Americans with health insurance by about 32 million in 2016 and about 34 million in 2021”. While reducing deficits by $210 billion between 2012 and 2021, Obamacare ensures that “95 percent of legal nonelderly residents will have insurance coverage in 2021."
But rather than focus on these main aspect of the ACA, the Democratic Party has limited its description of the benefits of this bill to two features: being able to stay on your parent’s healthcare plan longer, and not allowing health insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. While both are great aspects of the bill, they have mistakenly overshadowed the greater ones, rendering the core of Obamacare susceptible to unfounded criticism.
I may appear to be unfairly criticizing the Democrats, but this is, and has been for a long time, an unfair election. It has been an election during which preposterous, irrelevant and flat out untruthful arguments are thrown from both the left and the right. For years, I have watched the right pick and tear apart the achievements of the 2009 Stimulus and the 2010 Health Care Law. The DNC was the President’s and the Party’s chance to show that they were proud of those achievements and would not shy away from them in the face of persistent slander. Yet, President Obama failed to mention even the titles of these two bills, let alone their effects.
So, if the democrats hope to build any case for Obama’s re-election, it must be founded on two bills that have, so far, been mentioned less than Romney’s dog.
Reach Contributor Alex Blow here.