After many months of deep gloom there are suddenly plenty of things to encourage America's Republicans in political terms:
- Obama has lost control of the budget. Figures released by the White House budget office – reports Associated Press – now foresee a cumulative $9 trillion deficit from 2010-2019. That's $2 trillion more than the Obama administration estimated in May. Republicans who vigorously oppoosed Obama's massive fiscal stimulus will certainly be blaming that stimulus on this deterioration.
- The Obama coalition is beginning to splinter. Fouad Ajami explains why this was always likely. Some white liberals voted for him because they saw "absolution for the country in the election of an African-American man". Blue collar independents voted for him because they hoped he'd make life easier for them. Anti-Bush left-wingers voted for a man who would end the 'Cheney wars'. The likelihood that Obama will have to raise taxes and the growing commitment to Afghanistan are two of the biggest factors that are hurting this coalition.
- The unpopularity of Obama's healthcare reforms. More than any other factor the President's ambitions to reform a system with which most Americans are content but which does not adequately cover many poor Americans explains why Obama's job approval rating is now lower that that enjoyed by Bush at a similar stage of his presidency. See RealClearPolitics graph (click to enlarge).
- Republicans see hopes of advancing in the Senate and House of Representatives. It's still fifteen months until elections but early polls suggest that even the Democrat's Leader in the Senate – Harry Reid of Nevada – could lose his bid for re-election.
Pouring cold water on all these encouragements, however, is Gerald F Seib in the Wall Street Journal. He argues that "just because one party is down doesn't automatically mean the other party is up." He notes four outstanding weaknesses for the Republicans:
- The lack of a social justice agenda. He draws on an essay from Pete Wehner and Mike Gerson that pays tribute to how British conservatives are now competitive with Labour on issues of poverty and equity. Wehner and Gerson write: "Republicans would be well advised here to borrow a page from David
Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith in their revival of the British
Conservative party. These leaders have emphasized a range of issues
that directly influence the quality of life in community: homelessness,
addiction, prison reform, family breakdown, long-term unemployment. As
yet, Republicans have no comparable agenda to address such issues of
social justice from a conservative perspective. This, as we noted
earlier, may be partly owing to the curse of previous success, which
has allowed the issue of social justice to be seized by Democrats. But,
to invoke a historical reference, the GOP must be the party of both Adam Smiths: the free-market champion who wrote The Wealth of Nations and the moral philosopher who authored The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Like Smith in the 18th century, the party of the 21st century must
uphold the paramount virtues of freedom and the “invisible hand” and
the no less paramount truth that the free life is nurtured and
sustained in community."
- Only 28% of voters feel positively towards the Republicans. 42% feel positively towards the Democrats. The lack of a social justice agenda is part of the problem here.
- The lack of a credible national leader and presidential candidate for 2012. People like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are very unpopular with independent voters but loved by the base.
- No alternative policy for healthcare reform.