It is, once more, the economy, stupid.
This election was overwhelmingly about one thing—the lousy economy. Democrats paid the price as voters expressed their discontent.
Conservatives in both parties are simply wrong to claim that the vote represents an ideological shift to the right. It wasn’t because President Obama tried to do too much or was too liberal. If anything, it was because he did too little.
The recovery act is a case in point: it was too small and the White House didn’t fight aggressively for more. Democrats suffered because the economy hasn’t been producing jobs—and the president failed to convince voters he was on a course that would produce them. And the absence of a forceful and sustained explanation of how conservative policies have failed and will continue to fail allowed a right-wing narrative riddled with empty slogans, fear-mongering and outright falsehood to gain traction in the debate.
Republicans made gains with an agenda – a forced march to austerity – which will only make things worse, and a paymaster – corporate and wealthy donors threatened by reform – intent on defending entrenched interests. They have benefited from obstruction and are likely to be even more committed to it.
In order to regain the trust of the majority of voters, Democrats and the president have to lay out a bold plan to get the economy going and fight for it against those standing in the way. Joining the Republican embrace of cuts to Social Security and harsh budget austerity would be bad policy and bad politics.
Joining with the right to raise the retirement age, push through more job-killing trade accords, or extend tax breaks for the wealthy will address neither economic nor political challenges. It would be far better to lay out what the country needs, stand firm against the special interests and make the choices clear.