In the Arena

G.O.P. Re-Message Massage

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The New York Times leads today with Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse’s reportthat the Republican leadership has finally come to its senses and has stopped touting the near-certainty that it will win the House. The G.O.P.’s feral chest-pounding about a Republican tidal wave–a 70 seat shift!–has been, as I’ve written here before, political amateur hour. The G.O.P., especially its nutball “Obama’s sky is falling” wing, has been setting up a perverse expectatations game: if it wins 38 seats, it will have lost…because the Democrats will still control the House; if it wins 8 Senate seats, it will also have lost…because the Democrats will still control the Senate. Finally, some wiser Republican heads are re-setting expectations.

What’s actually going to happen? I have no idea. But Nate Silver, who is pretty good at these things, thinks there’s 66% chance the Democrats will lose the House and a 78% chance that they’ll keep the Senate. We still have a month of campaigning–and potential disasters for either side–to go. September seems not to have been good month Republicans, with their assorted loony candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle getting more national air time than their solid citizens like Ohio’s Rob Portman. But there is a definite anti-incumbent tide out in the country–and a strong anti-Democratic mood, as people simply don’t undertand the impact of complicated legislation like health care reform and financial regulatory reform on their lives. (An exception is the stimulus–you can’t drive a half-hour in this country without coming upon a road crew, which has given people some sense of where that money has gone.)

But several things seem clearer to me, after a month on the road. There is tremendous dissatisfaction with both political parties. People don’t think the same old Republican “solutions” are very credible, but they also don’t like the idea of big government activism, especially bailouts that aggrandize the wealthy, and they simply don’t get Keynesian economics. Having said that, though, there isn’t as much of the fist-shaking anger as I expected. There is a minority in this country–perhaps 30%–who are furious and terrified and think that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim-socialist–but most people, even those who disagree with him and disapprove of his performance, admire the effort and seriousness of this President.

There is, however, a tremendous disconnect between what people are concerned about and what Washington–and the media–seem to think is important. I’ll have more about that when I write about  What I Learned on My September Road Trip later this week.