By Brent Budowsky - 09/15/09 08:35 PM EDT
Dealignment has arrived. Republicans blew it, and are now so repellent that Americans increasingly reject both political parties.
In the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, 43 percent of voters labeled themselves independents.
Democrats should ask why, this summer, the vaunted Obama machine and e-mail list inspired virtually none of his supporters to attend town meetings, compared to opponents, who inspired masses to dominate the summer debate.
Here is how Obama blew it: Many Americans who endured the pain of a rip-off recession now endure the pain of a rip-off recovery. For them, life under a
Democratic president and Congress means trading one rip-off for another, giving them neither hope, nor change, nor an end to their pain.
2008 was a 1932 moment. But the power of eloquence ends when the reality of people’s lives does not change. If a president reads a book about Franklin Roosevelt and then names Timothy Geithner to the Treasury, America gets Geithner, not Roosevelt, and more status quo, not change.
Under Obama, as under George W. Bush, we will have banner headlines about historic Christmas bonuses for bankers and Wall Street that will enflame the nation, alongside headlines about 10 percent unemployment, declining home values, mounting foreclosures, skyrocketing credit card rates and a war that will require more troops without a plan for success.
Generations of Americans will pay for the bailouts, while those who took them have historic paydays and those who pay for them endure the pain under Obama, as they did under Bush.
The difference between realignment, which is dead, and dealignment, which has arrived, is that many Americans remember life under the most unpopular Republican president in a generation and compare it to life under a Democratic president with large majorities in Congress — and for them, life has not gotten better, and for some, it has gotten worse.
The last epic realignment battle began in 1968 and was won by Republicans with a majority that began with Nixon and lasted through Reagan and Bush 41.
Kevin Phillips forecast this in his book The Emerging Republican Majority. He argued that white working-class voters would swing from Democrats to the new Republican majority. They were called the silent majority and Reagan Democrats.
In 1968, the battle was between Robert Kennedy, who fought to unite working-class whites and minority voters over shared economic interests, and Nixon, who sought to divide them over social and cultural issues. Kennedy tragically died. Nixon tragically won. Reagan cemented the new alignment.
In 2008, Obama could have been the FDR or Robert Kennedy of our times. He campaigned for this and was elected for this. He inspired waves of participation, registration and turnout. He united young people, blacks, Hispanics, women and working-class whites with victories in Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina and other states.
Obama, like Reagan, could have cemented this realignment by governing as a fighting champion of the extraordinary coalition of the alienated and hopeful who elected him, but has not. He has governed as a standard-issue Democrat achieving standard-issue results, leaving intact a litany of abuses that impose pain on our people, restoring a political status quo with a Democratic advantage rather than a new realigned and historic majority.
His speech about Wall Street this week only highlights what has not been achieved since Inauguration Day.
Now the bailout rage has bipartisan targets. The president has achieved largely status quo results on the whole swath of finance, Wall Street, banking, bailout, lending, credit card, foreclosure and mortgage issues, with near 10 percent of the nation jobless, which leaves realignment dead until real change arrives.
With Republicans looking like the Party of No that tolerates the politics of hate, the voters reject them as well. The huge tide of participation for Democrats in 2008 has become a new tide of political independence in 2009.
We have entered a volatile moment. The president can still seize the mantle of fighting for great change uniting a broad coalition behind common interests. But until this fight is finally waged for real, realignment is dead, dealignment will prevail and neither party will win the broad confidence of the nation.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at email@example.com.