Sunday morning conjures up a lot of images—the thickest newspapers of the week, read over eggs and toast, the matrons of Washington, DC decked out in their church-going best led to service by their doting grandchildren, hunkering down under the covers and trying to sleep in, knowing that tomorrow starts a whole new unwanted work week. And for the geekiest of politics hounds, it means turning on the TV to see what will spill out from any of the DC roundup shows: Meet the Press, This Week, and State of the Union.
This week it looked like the framing of the 2010 Midterm elections was the main focus. Last week, President Obama said that the fall congressional campaigns amounted to a choice for voters:
This is a choice between the policies that led us into the mess or the policies that are leading us out of the mess, it's a choice between falling backward or moving forward.
That's nice, philosophically speaking, as a frame for voters. It sounds encouraging, positive, wrapped up with autonomy and self-determination. And probably too clunky to work for Democrats. After all, it demands a particular view of history—that President Bush and his friends got us into this mess—and it requires patience, for us to stay the course until we're out of this mess. These are two things Americans are historically extremely bad at providing. But perhaps its biggest challenge is that it asks the voting public to continue not assigning any of said "mess" to the current players in the Capitol. Unless they're Republicans. Or people who aren't also on the path of "moving forward." And since every politician in Washington knows to position herself or himself as wanting to "move forward," it becomes very difficult in an election campaign to see who is behind these presidential initiatives and who is not.
For their part, the GOP now has the change button at their disposal, since they're not currently in charge of anything other than threatening to filibuster which technically, they also can't do but which makes Democrats quaver in fear anyway. On State of the Union, Mitch McConnell was pointing directly at the "moving forward" logic when he asked:
How long can the other side run against the previous administration? They've been in charge now for a year
and a half. They've been on a gargantuan spending spree.
I actually laughed out loud when I heard his critique was based on his assertion that we should see more changes 18 months out from the election. We're still in two wars, which apart from Medicare—which is not a program Obama put in place—are two of the biggest portions of our current budget. McConnell's "spending spree" includes the Wall Street bailout, I'm betting. How would the GOP have avoided full-out depression? With happy face stickers from BP?
It looks like the battleground is ready for Decision 2010. On the one side, the Democrats urging everyone to stay the course of reform. All rhetoric about Obama bringing people together is over. On the other side, the GOP pointing to current spending as evidence that we're going off the rails. And in the corner, there's our paranoid uncle, Tea Party, screaming that the end of days are nigh.
Meanwhile, unemployment benefits just ended for millions of people out of work and the unemployment rate stays stubbornly above 9 percent. For some, neither party looks like its doing much of anything. I'm not sure any kind of rhetoric will sound genuine to those ears.