Elizabeth Drew– who’s been doing smart reporting since Watergate — in the NY Review of Books, on ‘Obama & the Upcoming Elections‘:
Thus far, interest in this year’s midterm elections is in almost inverse proportion to their importance….
Probably not since Richard Nixon have so many candidates shied away from being in the presence of their party’s president when he shows up in their states—though they welcome his strenuous fund-raising efforts on their behalf. It’s often said that the president should socialize more with Republicans, but they, too, don’t want to be seen in his presence and often turn down White House invitations; John Boehner has been forbidden by the House Republican caucus to negotiate with Obama on his own. Yet the public perception is that the failure of Washington to solve major problems during the past six years falls on the president as well as on those actually responsible—the Republicans. In fact, no president in history has faced such intransigence from the opposition party. It’s undeniable that the president’s race has a significant part in the destructive ways in which he is talked about and opposed.
Obama has on occasion fretted aloud that the focus in the news on the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington diverts attention from what he’s been able to achieve. When he’s long gone from the White House it could well become apparent that despite the odds Obama was responsible for notable achievements, among them Obamacare; getting gay marriage widely accepted; beginning to turn federal energy policy toward a more environmentally conscious set of policies; the Dodd-Frank bill’s restraints on Wall Street, however limited, with its rules still being argued over; and the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency championed by Elizabeth Warren….
It’s been evident for quite a while that a certain chilliness on Obama’s part has affected his relations with Congress, but it’s also questionable how much substantive difference this has made. A Cabinet officer said to me, “He’s a loner, and one result is that few Democrats are willing to take the hill for him.” Obama rose swiftly in politics and essentially on his own—he’d been on his own for most of his life—and political camaraderie is of little interest to him. His golfing foursomes are most often made up of junior White House staff and close nonpolitical friends from Chicago. This might not make much difference in the number of bills passed but it has had one very serious effect on his presidency: the Democrats’ unwillingness to praise, defend, much less celebrate the president has left the field clear to his multitude of attackers.
Obama tended to proceed on the theory that if he made some concessions to the Republicans—say, by speeding up deportations of undocumented immigrants—they might be more cooperative; but this hasn’t worked out. It’s true that he is innately cautious, and it’s also true that it is a lot easier to declare what he should have done than to show how he could actually have gotten the votes for that. Little is as simple in the Oval Office as it is to outside critics…
The Republicans are so uncertain of victory in elections to federal offices that they’re still resorting in several states to passing laws that make voting more difficult for minorities and other groups who would ordinarily vote for the Democrats. Some of these laws are even stricter than those adopted in 2012. Democrats might appear to have issues that could drive their voters to the polls. These would include Republican efforts to deprive women of their own reproductive decisions and opposition to such measures as raising the minimum wage and making unemployment insurance last longer.
Still, largely because of the president’s unpopularity, the Democratic candidates have been having problems finding their voice. Most of their races are focused on the vulnerabilities of their opponents, making for a thus far unedifying election. The result is that a midterm election with national implications so far has no overall national theme.
Unknown at this point is the effect of the unprecedented amounts of outside money being poured into many of the races. It’s estimated that the Kentucky race alone will cost $100 million, the highest amount ever for a state contest. In addition, numerous members of the more militantly liberal Democratic wing have been holding back support of their party’s candidate because of impurities they find in the president’s or candidate’s positions. Democrats “disappointed” in Obama could help elect a Republican Senate. The odds may be stacked against the Democrats this November, but whether they can stave off a loss of control of one half of Congress is still up to them and their would-be supporters.