BY SUSAN ESTRICH
The conventional wisdom these days is that the best shot for Democrats heading into the November elections in marginal districts is for the president to raise money and lower his profile. Just send checks. Events after 7 p.m. Closed to the press. This is not an election Democrats want to “nationalize.” Better to keep it local. Better to run as your own man or woman, not as the president’s best friend.
Republicans, by contrast, will spend as much time as they can running against the president. If his popularity is down to his base [low 40s], that means voters in the middle are up for grabs, and Republicans will try to grab them by capitalizing on their concerns about the man they elected two years ago.
There are two chinks in the conventional wisdom.
The first, on the Democratic side, reflects the reality that a president can’t really disappear, even if he tries to, and in this president’s case, the act of trying may make people mad enough to want to send him a message. I’m thinking here of the president’s forthcoming vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, one of those terrible decisions that has even his strongest supporters shaking their heads. Why is he going to Martha’s Vineyard?
For vacation. Because he likes it. Because he knows people there, has friends there, enjoys himself there.
I’m from Massachusetts. I was in my 30s the first time I ever set foot in Martha’s Vineyard. Elite. Fancy. Expensive. Hard to get to. The Estrich family from Lynn considered Nantasket Beach exotic. Martha’s Vineyard might as well have been an island off of Spain.
I don’t begrudge the president a nice vacation. But having already spent time in Maine this summer, a second vacation to a place other than the hard-hit Gulf is an invitation for people to think what too many of them already think: The president just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand what’s happening out there, out here. People still don’t have jobs, home values still haven’t recovered, and 401(k)s are still in a slump. The only signs of recovery are a lot of highway projects, which, as we are told every day when the traffic slows, are being paid for by us.
The danger for Democrats is that if people keep thinking the president doesn’t get it [and that’s what I am hearing, particularly when those golf course shots hit the front page], the easiest way for them to send him a message, since he’s not on the ticket, is to vote against the Democrat who is. November could be a disaster for Democrats if that mentality sets in. The president may not be in any position to rescue Democrats, but his absence from the campaign trail – particularly if he’s playing golf and hobnobbing with rich donors instead – will be viewed [and advertised by Republicans] as an invitation to send him a message he doesn’t want to hear.
On the other hand, the Republicans also have their problems. The middle may be up for grabs, but by whom? The devil you know or the one you don’t? In tough times, do you go with someone who is unknown, inexperienced and maybe a little bit too far off the beaten track?
The best hope for Democrats from Joe Sestak to Harry Reid is not the president but their opponents. I don’t think “tea partiers” are racist, but I’m not sure they’re all qualified for the offices they seek. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but in tough times, even more so than in good times, it makes sense to have someone who knows what they’re doing, whether you’re hiring someone to fix the pipes or fix the country.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer