Tomorrow a special election will be held to replace Weiner. His New York City district formerly was viewed as safely Democratic — it covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and was the political springboard for current New York Senator Chuck Schumer — but now polls indicate that the Republican candidate may actually win. Such a result would send shock waves through the Democratic Party and might cause more Democrats to begin questioning President Obama and his leadership of the party.
The old saying is that all politics is local, and local issues have been important in this race. The district includes a large Jewish population, and Republican Bob Turner has urged them to send a message to President Obama about his policies toward Israel. The polling also indicates, however, that President Obama’s general unpopularity may be a drag on the Democratic candidate, David Weprin. The President carried the district by 11 percentage points in 2008, but a recent poll indicates that he now is viewed unfavorably by 54 percent of respondents, including 38 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents.
You normally can’t make too much out of a special election to replace a politician who resigned amidst scandal, but tomorrow’s special election could be an exception to that rule. If a safe Democratic seat flips to the Republicans, it may be a sign of greater voter unrest, and larger political waves, at work in America.
I think one reason that President Obama’s job approval ratings have fallen over recent months is that his actions often indicate that he and his staff simply do not pay attention to the basics. When the nuts and bolts appear to be neglected, questions about competence and credibility inevitably will arise.
Consider the President’s recent jobs proposal. He used a repeated “pass this bill right away” mantra in his speech to reflect the urgency of the unemployment problem. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously — for people outside the Beltway, the lack of jobs is an urgent problem and has been an urgent problem for years. Unfortunately, the President’s ability to effectively convey that urgency is undercut by his not having a bill drafted, and introduced by congressional allies, on the day he gave the speech. Even now, days later, the “jobs bill” still has not been finally reduced to writing, much less introduced in either House of Congress. Similarly, despite the President’s statement that the jobs bill is fully paid for, the legislation to achieve that result also has not been drafted or introduced.
Whatever your position may be on the merits of the President’s jobs proposals, these failures are self-inflicted wounds that hurt the chances that the President’s proposals will pass. By saying “pass this bill right away” when no bill exists, the President is handing opponents an obvious, easily understood “talking point” response. More fundamentally, the President’s failure to have actual bills at the ready also demonstrates a certain tone-deafness. In two prior legislative battles, on the initial “stimulus” package and the President’s health care proposal, the actual drafting of the legislation was an afterthought, whereas any American who ever watched Schoolhouse Rock knows that the bill should be the first step in the process. The stimulus package and the health care legislation turned out to be sprawling monstrosities with special-interest provisions buried in hundreds of pages of legislative text, passed without adequate scrutiny. The President’s failure to have a written jobs plan bill already written and available for public review just raises the prospect of the same flawed process being followed again — with special interests busily working, even now, to get their pet provisions included.
The fact that President Obama has done this, again, when a different course easily could have been followed this time suggests either that he and his staff have not learned from their earlier mistakes — or that they don’t even consider them to be mistakes. I’m not sure which of those two scenarios is more harmful to his standing with American voters.