Led by President Obama, Democrats are leveraging the nation’s economic crisis and the aura of inaugural goodwill to build a “blue political wall” — new constituencies dependent on expanding government programs — that could lock in 2008 Democratic political gains for decades to come.
Unless Republicans act to counter those initiatives, pundits and pollsters warn, they could find themselves on an extended vacation from power in Washington.
The combination of former Rep. Rahm Emanuel, described by former Bush adviser Karl Rove as a “sharp-edged partisan,” and President Obama’s strategic mindset, could spell big trouble for Republicans hoping to return to the majority.
Shortly after being appointed Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel declared at an executive forum: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think that could not do before.”
The administration’s plan to take advantage of the financial meltdown centers around Democrats’ proposed $825 billion stimulus package, which the Wall Street Journal reports “has given Obama a unique opportunity granted almost none of his predecessors. Because of the economic crisis, he is meeting an unusual array of promises almost immediately, including heavy investments in energy and other priorities.”
At the very least, this gives Obama an early boost in building a record of accomplishment for his first term, countering GOP charges that he’s failed to live up to expectations. Perhaps more significantly, some programs Democrats are rubberstamping appear aimed at solidifying Obama’s recent political gains. Consider:Stimulating Democrats — Obama has estimated that 80 percent of the 4 million jobs that his stimulus package creates or saves will come from the private sector. But that still means 800,000 will be public sector jobs. This alone means Obama’s plan conveys “a partisan advantage,” says GOP leader Ken Blackwell. He points out that last year Virginia went Democratic for the first time since 1964. Obama won the Old Dominion by just 130,000 votes. Creating 800,000 new jobs “might help cement Virginia in the Democrat column, making it harder for Republicans to retake the White House,” Blackwell says. “Organizing” America — In part, Obama’s call for a national spirit of volunteerism is a clever extension of his campaign’s adroit use of the Internet to mobilize political support. Previous presidents have called on Americans to volunteer their time, but Obama’s “Organizing for America” is a political operation that will be run by the Democratic National Committee. “The Internet is an amazing tool for us to be able to organize people together,” Obama remarked while he rolling paint onto walls during a volunteer photo op shortly before the inauguration. “We saw that during our campaign.” Indeed, during the campaign Obama raised $500 million online and built a database of 13 million e-mail addresses. As president, Obama now controls the DNC, so he can share his digital brigades with whomever he wants. Organizing for America will keep Obama’s online army ready to march. Observes Ben Smith of Politico: “It's a potentially hugely, uniquely powerful tool, enhancing the muscle of the official who is already the most powerful man in America.” The organization will also help Democrats hone their appeal to a younger demographic that is particularly receptive to Internet-based messages.Infrastructure Politics — Democrats, who so often tout the economic virtues of infrastructure projects, are continuing to build their party’s political infrastructure as well. One notable example is the Secretary of State (SOS) project. SOS, funded in part by George Soros, was created to seed state election bureaucracies nationwide with partisan activists, usually secretaries of state who are strategically positioned to influence the outcome of close recounts. The prize SOS pupil is Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who recently oversaw the recount that flipped the original result in the Gopher State from GOP Sen. Norm Coleman to Democrat Al Franken. “Blue” Behavior — Another new Democratic organization, ActBlue, serves as an online fundraising clearinghouse for Democrats. Launched in 2004, ActBlue has raised over $50 million, including $3.7 million garnered for Democrats just since Election Day. It has orchestrated contributions of nearly $1 million for the Franken recount effort. Like SOS, ActBlue works behind the scenes to give Democrats a structural political advantage. Boosting Hispanic Support — Obama carried the Hispanic vote by 67 percent, a key part of his victory. The $32.2 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) that Obama is expected to sign will provide health insurance for some 11 million children. The House version would cover hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants’ children, without the current five-year waiting period for eligibility. Along with a phased-in amnesty push that will likely begin with immigrants serving in the U.S. armed forces, this should solidify a Democratic constituency that, as recently as 2004, split its vote much more evenly with Republicans. William Gheen, president of the Raleigh, N.C.-based Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), tells Newsmax that amnesty would so indelibly alter the nation’s political balance that it would “destroy any future hopes for immigration enforcement or border security.” Promoting Unions — Most union members vote Democratic, so one way to tilt the game in Democrats’ favor is to swell union ranks with more workers. That’s where card check comes in. Also called the Employee Free Choice Act, it would eliminate the confidential balloting in which workers now determine whether they want to be unionized. Even former liberal presidential candidate George McGovern warns that the measure could deny “freedom to many Americans,” as union toughs bully American workers into joining the unions, whether they want to or not.Healthy Down Payments — The Democrats’ massive stimulus plan includes $600 million to “prepare” the government to deliver for national health care, which will eventually make millions dependent on the federal government. Fox host Glenn Beck’s reaction: “Wow, $600 million just to prepare for it? Sounds like it's going to be cheap. No seriously, socialism is going to be so much fun when it's fully in place in America.”
The idea of a growing, Democratic wall protecting the states that moved into the blue column this election worries Republicans who already face an uphill battle when it comes to Electoral College trends. Atlantic Media Political Director Ron Brownstein recently noted in the National Journal that since 1996, “Democrats have built a wall of solid states that gives them an inherent advantage in the race for electoral votes.”
The good news for Republicans: Polls show party loyalty means less than ever before. So Democrats know they have to move quickly to lock in their political advantage.
As Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher tells U.S. News & World Report: “Work will be needed to hold onto our gains from this year. New voters aligned themselves with Obama, but will need more convincing to solidify this group for 2012.”
If the nascent Obama political machine is allowed to rumble forward unchecked, however, Republicans may find that the blue wall now under construction by Democrats could become a formidable obstacle indeed.
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