How Bad Will It Be For Democrats This Fall?

You can’t even imagine.

Or maybe you can.

The Dems’ strategy to hang on to majorities in Congress this fall is…running against George W. Bush.

No, really. They’re serious. Congressional Quarterly is actually reporting this…

House Democrats plan to revive the political ghost of former President George W. Bush in their bid to retain the majority this fall, according to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the head of the party’s re-election efforts.

Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on Tuesday signaled House Democrats will try to repeat their success in the last two election cycles by once again running under a change banner.

Here’s the quote:

“This time we will make the case that supporting a Republican is simply turning back the clock to Bush economic policies, the same policies that got us into this mess to begin with,” he told reporters gathered at the downtown offices of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think thank. Republicans, Van Hollen added, “will I think put themselves clearly in the position where they represent the status quo and that the Democrats, while we have the White House and both houses of Congress, remain the party of change and reform.”

And then there’s this:

Van Hollen waved off comparisons to the 1994 midterm elections, when insurgent Republicans channeled popular dissatisfaction with Democratic control to knock off 54 Democrats and win back the House. But Van Hollen argued that in 1994 — unlike now — the GOP presented itself as a viable alternative; Democrats were caught flat-footed; and President Bill Clinton’s support was sagging.

Van Hollen might be right. 1994 could be the wrong comparison.

Michael Barone would like you to meet 1946. That year, the GOP took 13 Senate seats and 55 House seats – just two of those in the South, where the party would not be competitive for another 35 years – and earned the largest majorities it would have between 1930 and 1980. Barone’s comparison between today and that post-war midterm cycle focuses on three bases.

First, Barone notes that in both 1946 and this year the Democrats were and are engaged in trying to sell a massive government role in the U.S. economy. At that time, America was coming out of World War II when by necessity the nation had been under the thumb of the federal government. Federal expenditures were as high as 40 percent of GDP during the war, but as it began to come to a close President Roosevelt had proposed a raft of redistributive policies aimed at resurrecting his New Deal – and after FDR’s death President Truman continued much of the agenda. Truman’s attempts at continuing wartime price controls were a disaster and the public became increasingly restless with his performance on domestic policy. He wasn’t able to push much of the more left-wing elements of the 1944 FDR agenda across the finish line due to the opposition of Southern Democrats, but he hadn’t given up by Election Day in 1946.

As Barone notes:

The similarities between the policy choices facing Congress in 1945–1946 and those facing it in 2009–2010 are obviously far from exact. Nevertheless, there are some. In both cases a Democratic president was proposing and a Democratic Congress was considering proposals to substantially increase the size and scope of government beyond previous peacetime limits. The Democratic 79th Congress did not come as close to passing such proposals as the more heavily Democratic 111th Congress has done, but the prospect existed then as it does now that a more heavily Democratic Congress might do so.

Point Two in the comparison was that in 1946 the Democrats were in the pocket of labor unions and it became a major political issue. Certainly that’s the case now, as the GM bailout was nothing but a bailout of the United Auto Workers, Andy Stern has become a household name and there are no Democrat public events which don’t involve union members of some kind. That doesn’t even take into effect the special treatment unions are getting in the health-care bill, the fact that Card Check remains on the agenda and the on-again, off-again attempt to grease the skids for the Teamsters to destroy FedEx. Or all the other small ways Democrats are carrying water for obsolete unions in an attempt to keep them afloat.

The power of unions probably isn’t what it was in 1946, but the public perception of their effect on the economy and the distaste with the cozy relationship between unions and Democrat politicians are similar. Barone mentions that in 1946 some 10 percent of the work force spent some time on strike, infuriating the American people and making unions politically toxic on Election Day. While unions are a much smaller percentage of the private-sector work force today (just nine percent as opposed to 27 percent in 1946), they’re a much larger segment of the public-sector work force – where none of the public employees were unionized in 1946, some 50 percent of them are now. Public employees are paid 70-80 percent more than private-sector employees today, and virtually all serious observers realize that government workers’ salaries and benefits are completely unsustainable. With that as a base, add the fact that unions seem to be omnipresent in attempts to attack the Tea Party movement (just two examples being the Kenneth Gladney incident and the recent egg-throwing fiasco in Searchlight) which don’t seem to be abating in the least and you have a formula for unions to become an electoral flashpoint this fall.

Third in Barone’s comparison is parallel between polling data sets in 1946 and today:

In both 1945–1946 and 2009–2010, opposition to Democrats rose and support of Republicans increased during the electoral cycle, but those increases came later in the cycle in 1945–1946 than they have in 2009–2010. In Gallup’s polls, Republicans did not lead Democrats in the generic vote for Congress until late June and early July 1946, and then by only 51%–49% (Gallup did not report undecideds in those days). In Gallup’s last poll from March 2010, Republicans led 47%–44%; and the latest Gallup numbers on unions show a marked slide against them in public opinion.

Here at the Hayride, we’ve made the point time and time again that the Democrats simply don’t have any upside between now and Election Day with which they might be able to stave off a nightmare at the polls. Democrat agenda items like Cap And Trade, Card Check, immigration, Net Neutrality (which was at least temporarily blown to bits by the DC Circuit Court today) and a bank-tax bill written by Chris Dodd are all major losers at a time when their poor performance on Obamacare has already discredited the party.

And if Democrat strategy involves attempting to paint GOP candidates as Bush clones, they run the risk of having the American people make the choice that the current president’s governance is worse than his predecessor. Should that be the conclusion of the public, a blowout to dwarf either 1994 or 1946 may well ensue – and it might be a generation before Democrats are given the opportunity to govern unfettered again.

UPDATE: Allahpundit at HotAir has an interesting take on this one:

For all the media blather about tea partiers being a liability to the GOP, either because of their alleged extremism or their potential to split and go third-party, this is a case in which they’re an asset. The more the press pushes the idea that small-government fiscal cons have captured the party, the harder it is for Democrats to push the Bush angle. Which is not to say that’ll stop them: Prepare yourself for a two-pronged DNC campaign theme that simultaneously claims (a) these are the same old Republicans you hate and (b) these are newly radicalized Republicans you’ll hate even more. But they’ve overplayed their hand on the latter point and, per the “Miss Me Yet?” meme, the former point isn’t exactly a home run these days (especially with Americans well disposed to the idea of divided government), so even your friendly neighborhood eeyore isn’t sweating this one.

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