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Are the 2014 Elections a Referendum on Barack Obama?

Let the recriminations begin. With election day forecasts favoring Republicans the blame game has already kicked into gear with President Obama being singled out for scrutiny. DC politics blog Politico is running a piece titled A midterm referendum on Barack Obama. The sentiment seems to have some subscribers. But are the 2014 elections really a referendum on Obama?

While it is undeniable that the president’s low approval numbers and recent blunders in the Middle East have hurt Democrats, he has tried to stay out of focus this election – arguably too much as his near total absence has drawn its own attention. But the issues driving voter sentiment – particularly economic inequality and opportunity – are generally not favorable to Republicans or at least shouldn’t be as, unlike the Democratic Party, the GOP openly celebrates its disdain for taxing the wealthy, regulating Big Business, and protecting consumers. Not a great program for 99% of the electorate.

Politics, unlike other phenomena, has an odd characteristic of tying perception and reality completely. If enough people believe something it becomes, in essence, true. This is why narratives matter so much and no one appears to be buying into the toxic Obama narrative more than Democratic candidates and operatives.

Obama himself has missed the adoring crowds, replaced by an endless parade of fundraisers where he has gone through the motions of a speech about hope over cynicism that even he didn’t seem to believe anymore. In contrast, at his Saturday night rally in Detroit for gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and Gary Peters — the only Senate candidate who wanted him — he was sharp and funny and energetically ripped into the Republicans, feeding off the energy of 6,000 people actually ecstatic to see him.

There, Obama put himself at the center of the conversation again, as he hasn’t since the early October speech in which he insisted his policies were on the ballot, making Democrats everywhere bang their collective head against the wall. “Gary needs your vote, and Mark needs your vote,” Obama said. “I need your vote.” But there aren’t many crowds like that left. Most Democratic campaigns didn’t want Obama anywhere near them, and with his negative numbers continuing to rise through the fall, several of those that had expressed interest rescinded their requests.

The problem, of course, is that if the election is not about President Obama’s leadership what is it about? What is the actual theme of the 2014 elections? Why should voters even care?

Neither party has put forward any compelling proposals. Most of the campaign media battles have been about silly ephemera that will have no substantive effect on governing. Partly that is the result of having a terrible lazy media packed with reporters looking for easy clicks, but it is also the result of not having any animating ideas or positions presented.

So the 2014 elections could be characterized as a general referendum on the president but given the expected low turnout and anti-incumbency sentiment they could also be called a referendum on a hopelessly broken political system.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Are the 2014 Elections a Referendum on Barack Obama?

Let the recriminations begin. With election day forecasts favoring Republicans the blame game has already kicked into gear with President Obama being singled out for scrutiny. DC politics blog Politico is running a piece titled A midterm referendum on Barack Obama. The sentiment seems to have some subscribers. But are the 2014 elections really a referendum on Obama?

While it is undeniable that the president’s low approval numbers and recent blunders in the Middle East have hurt Democrats, he has tried to stay out of focus this election – arguably too much as his near total absence has drawn its own attention. But the issues driving voter sentiment – particularly economic inequality and opportunity – are generally not favorable to Republicans or at least shouldn’t be as, unlike the Democratic Party, the GOP openly celebrates its disdain for taxing the wealthy, regulating Big Business, and protecting consumers. Not a great program for 99% of  the electorate.

Politics, unlike other phenomena, has an odd characteristic of tying perception and reality completely. If enough people believe something it becomes, in essence, true. This is why narratives matter so much and no one appears to be buying into the toxic Obama narrative more than Democratic candidates and operatives.

Obama himself has missed the adoring crowds, replaced by an endless parade of fundraisers where he has gone through the motions of a speech about hope over cynicism that even he didn’t seem to believe anymore. In contrast, at his Saturday night rally in Detroit for gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and Gary Peters — the only Senate candidate who wanted him — he was sharp and funny and energetically ripped into the Republicans, feeding off the energy of 6,000 people actually ecstatic to see him.

There, Obama put himself at the center of the conversation again, as he hasn’t since the early October speech in which he insisted his policies were on the ballot, making Democrats everywhere bang their collective head against the wall. “Gary needs your vote, and Mark needs your vote,” Obama said. “I need your vote.” But there aren’t many crowds like that left. Most Democratic campaigns didn’t want Obama anywhere near them, and with his negative numbers continuing to rise through the fall, several of those that had expressed interest rescinded their requests.

The problem, of course, is that if the election is not about President Obama’s leadership what is it about? What is the actual theme of the 2014 elections? Why should voters even care?

Neither party has put forward any compelling proposals. Most of the campaign media battles have been about silly ephemera that will have no substantive effect on governing. Partly that is the result of having a terrible lazy media packed with reporters looking for easy clicks, but it is also the result of not having any animating ideas or positions presented.

So the 2014 elections could be characterized as a general referendum on the president but given the expected low turnout and anti-incumbency sentiment they could also be called a referendum on a hopelessly broken political system.

Photo from White House under public domain.

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.