Setting the Agenda

For the Democratic Party, this bespeaks a larger problem here that goes beyond Obama’s second term. Even leading Democrats such as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley say the party has failed to set the agenda for the past 30 years–to come up with a powerful new message to counter “Reaganomics.” “Since Reagan [the Republicans] have done a very good job of setting the frame,” O’Malley, one of a small handful of leading Democrats who are spoken of as potential successors to Obama in 2016, told me in an interview before the Democratic convention. “That the enemy is government. The enemy is taxes. …. Too many of us started trying to adopt their message and repackage it as our own.”

Hence in the last two years Obama has allowed Republicans to make the deficit (most of which is George W. Bush’s) the central topic of discussion, just as Bill Clinton was once forced to “triangulate” against big government. Fearful of the big-government stigma, the Obama campaign has even shrunk from trying to promote its signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, to the American people, despite vindication from the Supreme Court, which upheld the health care law in June.

This has been the problem with the Democratic Party since I started following politics around 1992. I don’t see that changing during Obama’s second term. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t offer much in terms of a vision for the country or for government’s role in it.