Friday, December 17, 2010

If a President is Popular, Does Anyone Care?

The Washington Post's post-election poll finds that among American adults President Obama more trusted and better liked than Congressional Repbulicans. Does the relative popularity of the President matter at all? Republicans retook the House this year in a reversal of Democratic momentum of the last two elections, taking state legislatures like Minnesota's that have literally always been Democratic. The Republicans will have a freer hand in drawing the boundaries of congressional districts this year than they did in 2000. The current thinking is that a generic ballot poll overstates actual performance in the House by 3 and a half points. More Republican-drawn maps might move actual Congressional districts a couple points in a more conservative direction, packing Democrats into fewer districts.

This point boils down to: Republicans are very well suited to control the House (and will likely take the Senate) after 2012 whether President Obama wins reelection or not. The 2012 election is the next time that the public has a direct say in the makeup, temperament, or direction of the federal government. Until then, what the public thinks is actually pretty irrelevant. Why should it matter that President Obama is better trusted to reduce the federal deficit than Congressional Republicans or that people like him more than his newly powerful rivals? This awareness won't change the media coverage, which is dominated by right-wing talking points via Fox News. The public won't suddenly become visible to Republican politicians who are taking away funding for their rail systems, libraries, or police departments. It's nice to know that the public, in the privacy of their own homes talking in confidence to a pollster will prefer the President over the Congressional Republicans. This preference doesn't translate to a more rational Republican party or a more sane media climate. Those who prefer the President's policies to the Republican's plans need to make their voices heard outside of their homes. Organizing is hard when there isn't an election on. People are motivated by goals and overcoming challenges. The challenge now is to prevent serious cuts to spending programs that better American society, that protect the weary from famine and the weak from harm. I can't imagine how to do that in your neighborhood, but I'm sure that you can.

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