If you missed it, President Obama gave remarks and took questions this morning at a retreat for Senate Democrats. You can watch the full video here. Unlike last week’s session with House Republicans, there wasn’t anything particularly exciting or noteworthy to come out of the event, but I did think Obama was right to argue that “good policy is good politics.” The fact is that voters really aren’t that concerned with abstractions like the deficit or “bipartisanship,” they want concrete, easy to recognize results. Tax cuts are popular because they are tangible in ways that deficit reduction — or even health care reform — aren’t; an extra hundred dollars in their pocket is far more concrete, even if it isn’t beneficial in the long-run.
That said, abstract policies will eventually have concrete benefits. If passed, health care reform won’t immediately affect the vast majority of Americans. Sooner or later, nearly every American has a bad accident, or finds themselves with an unexpected medical bill, and will have the Democratic Party to thank for the fact that they can afford to pay their bills and keep their coverage. That is an enormous amount of political power, and congressional Democrats could remove themselves from the immediate political environment and take a longer-view of things, they’d see that.
I think Democrats have gotten so used to acting in a favorable political environment that they’ve forgotten that the tables will turn, and the public’s ire will be focused on them. What they need to realize is that that’s to be expected. The appropriate response is to soldier on with your agenda, confident in the knowledge that successful policies will benefit the party in the long-run. I’ve said this before, but shying away from their agenda will only accomplish two things: first, voters will (correctly) perceive Democrats as feckless losers, and second, activists will (justifiably) abandon the party in frustration. If Democrats can just deliver results, the politics will fall into place.
Photo credit: Luke Sharrett/The New York Times