The Responsibility Gap, and the Coming Inflection Point

While all electoral signs do continue to indicate a fair Republican landslide (although one in which we preserve the Senate), I want to push back against the developing idea that that decline will continue through 2012. In fact, I think the result will be quite the opposite (although evidence for that position has yet to develop). Within a few months after the 2010 members are seated, I would expect to see the second derivative of our poll numbers sharply increase, go positive, and stay that way.

For our decline to date, we can blame the exclusive narrative of the 2008-10 political period, in two parts: that (1) the party in power has been unable to arrest the United States’ economic decline, or, more honestly, bring it into recovery mode, and (2) that the party in power is, exclusively, the Democrats.

The second part was never actually true: the “supermajority” was illusive, and the façade of control it created was probably the worst thing that’s yet happened to President Obama. Exploiting that assumption, the Republicans could (and did) deny almost any effective reforms, and still credibly blame Democrats for an inaction they struggled to avoid.

Our perceived monopoly deprived the GOP of any need to create a real agenda. They’ve coasted on that for a while yet, and the “Pledge to America” represents no change from that trend. Our hope, then, is (and must be) that the election drives a re-evaluation of who’s actually capable of what in this country’s government. If the GOP starts to shoulder some of the responsibility of governing, we may gain through political pressure what we were never able to through just-shy-of-60 numbers: a useful, governing coalition.



  1. I agree with your 2012 analysis, although I suspect that the Republicans are going to mightly resist actually governing come 2011. I also suspect that some of those who do govern will be punished by the Tea Party.

  2. You mean “inflection point.” But I think what you really mean is “critical point”, specifically one where the curvature doesn’t change.

  3. The Democrats are being punished for a perceived inaction, to be sure, but also for their actions, especially the bailouts and recovery funding, which people don’t really seem to understand.

    And that should not come as a surprise, since the problem seems to be that the White House has done very little to explain exactly why spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the middle of a crisis is a good idea – and it is, but it just looks like so much wasteful spending if you don’t know and understand the reasoning behind it.

    It’s interesting to compare with FDR. The New Deal reforms were much more radical and expensive than anything we’re seeing now, but he remained popular throughout the process because people understood what the purpose and the benefits were.

    I guess what I want to know is, where are Obama’s fireside chats? And what’s David Axelrod doing?

    1. I think the campaign should have pressed their message more, similar to what Bush did with terrorism/security, “It would have been a lot worse if we didn’t do this”.

      1. And they need to press the messag emore that some o fthe bailouts – TARP specifically – were done by Bush. If the Republicans thought it was a good idea when he said so, they are hippocrits for saying otherwise under Mr. Obama, and should be called to account.

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