The Democrats midterm message is easy to understand: we've done things to help you, and Republicans are obstructionists for the sake of politics, want to bring back failed Wall Street friendly ideas, and are increasingly captive to the Tea Party audience. This is a good message for the core of the Obama coalition, but does it work for the midterm electorate -- particularly this midterm electorate?
Obama ran on a fundamental promise to make government work for the better, and Republicans believe they've blocked him from achieving that goal, and that the economy, combined with their own scorched earth strategy, has left voters extremely skeptical of government intervention again. Midterms are about noise, not volume; usually, the most exercised partisans and their lackeys will react against the president in power, creating a referendum of sorts. Voters tend to be older and whiter.
The new Democratic platform does little to recognize this demographic. The party is getting annihilated among whites, even in states like California. Declaring that the Democrats are the party of accomplishments is one thing, but it really does not matter to swing voters in all those House seats straddling the Appalachian Trial, the industrial Midwest and the Rocky Mountain region that the U.S. is once again beloved in the world, that Obama is a man of science, or that he appointed a Latina to the Supreme Court.
The alternative is not to run away from accomplishments, of course. The angle that projects a "mommy state" isn't going to work -- "we made things less worse and protected you." People are hurting and feeling neglected. They've gone from shock to anger about the last few years. And Democrats still lose credibility when they talk about being part of the most honest, open, ethical government ever. Whether right or wrong, the public, after health care, sees Congress AND Obama as part of the politics as usual crowd.
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Marc Ambinder is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.