The Democrats clawed their way back to the presidency in 1992 thanks to a revolution in Democratic affairs: No longer would his party be captured by its client groups, Bill Clinton promised. The Democrats would not merely be a tool of the unions and the New Class of “helping professions” that rely on government spending for sustenance. Democrats would be pro-business, pro-Wall Street even. Freed from a Democratic Congress after the 1994 elections, Clinton was able to make good on this pledge and restrain spending, reform welfare, cut capital gains taxes, and enjoy an economic boom. His party grew close to Wall Street. It accumulated so much goodwill there and in boardrooms across the country that in 2008 even a former community organizer with roots in the left was able to pull the wool over the eyes of some of America’s most powerful financiers.
What resulted—the stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, the relentless pursuit of higher taxes on wealth, the bashing of hedge funds and private equity—has turned much of high finance against the Obama administration and even the Democratic Party at large. Cory Booker was performing triage. He was trying to sustain the dying embers of a Clintonite, pro-business Democratic Party. He understood that Obama and his Keystone Kops are turning the New Democrat dream into ashes. And Booker, like other Democrats, is terrified by the answer to the following question: Who else will Obama bring down with him?
The alternate solution to that is, Obama isn’t going down. But the now-old Clintonite coalition probably is. This is an older alignment — market liberalism vs. social democracy, with Romney standing for the former and Obama for the latter.
This will be a tough fight:
“I feel like they are overly relying on the have-nots out-voting the haves,” said one well-known Democrat close to the campaign. “The economy has gotten a lot better for a lot of people. Instead of making those people feel good about growing businesses, the campaign seems to assume that angry people will prevail. There were successful business leaders in the 2008 coalition, who wanted to use their success to do good. We’re losing that inspiration.”
An Obama campaign official responded: “A few elites in the Northeast Corridor have had a different reaction to the discussion of Mitt Romney’s record than most Americans. Hundreds of thousands of voters have seen the full version of [the Obama campaign’s] ‘Steel’ [ad] online, and the response has been such that we expanded the buy in Ohio. … Mayor Booker’s comments weren’t anticipated, but they did drive a discussion of Romney’s history of profiting off of bankrupting companies on all three network newscasts.
Some key Democrats say they have been dismayed watching Obama become a divider not a uniter, trying to incite anger among women, students and older voters. It’s striking how, in private conversations with Obama advisers, they openly talk of chucking the feel-good politics of 2008 for a very conventional form of political warfare this time around. A low-grade friction has emerged among advisers on whether the hack approach is damaging the brand. …
But the Obama team anticipates a nasty campaign on both sides, one that will look different from 2008 in another way: Obama can’t expand the map the way he did last time out, so he’ll need to grind out close victories in tough states to prevail. That’s all about ginning up the base with us-versus-them politics, not high-flying, high-minded oratory.
It’s going to be interesting.