Structural Factors

A constant refrain from the pundit elite this midterm has been how different things could be if only the President had been able to "connect." If only the President -- like Reagan, or Clinton -- had more charismatically or effectively communicated his economic plan... If only the President had struck a nerve with the electorate...

Salon's Steve Kornacki explains how the "failed to connect" myth fails to really explain:

It's tempting -- really, really tempting -- to watch Bill Clinton on television these days and to say, "Gee, the Democrats would be much better off right now if he were in the White House instead of Barack Obama"...

Clinton, pundits are now telling us, embodies the magic formula that Obama is missing...

This is true, but only to a point. Yes, Clinton was -- and is -- one of the most effective communicators the Democratic Party has ever produced. But his gift for persuasion had sharp and clear limits while he was president, and when he was faced with a political climate like the one Obama now confronts, it was utterly useless... In short, Bill Clinton was Bill Clinton in the 1994 midterms -- and his party still got massacred...

And when the dust settled, the political world -- Republicans, Democrats and the media -- was united in one conclusion: Clinton was a goner in 1996. The country had tuned him out. He had lost his ability to "connect."

His experience is well worth keeping in mind now. We like to think that personality, message and campaign tactics are what define elections -- that the good politicians are the ones who put all of this together in a way that trumps structural factors like the economy. But that's just not how it works. Clinton's words -- no matter how masterfully crafted and articulated -- fell on deaf ears in 1994, just as Obama's are mostly falling on deaf ears today. It was only when favorable structural factors were again present that Clinton began "connecting" again.

No matter how masterfully crafted or articulated. Voters aren't responding to a lack of polished message or even a rejection of the ideas that do reach them. They aren't embracing the GOP or their economic "plan."  There is even some evidence that they don't think Democrats have gone far enough with reform.  So how is Obama losing them?

The "structural factors" influencing the feelings of voters this election are as much about the perception that Washington is broken, and that Democrats can't get it done in the face of Republican obstruction (another way in which the GOP was succeeding in 1994) as they are about high unemployment.

2010 won't be 1994 again for the Democrats, but to change the political climate, the President and House Democrats need to get in and fight for legislation, bold legislation. Ironically, a small GOP majority in the House might make that happen faster.

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