Imaginary Crisis

There is no meme more beloved among conservative gabbers (and many MSM folk) than “Disarray among Democrats.” It is one that has been deployed to suggest that Barack Obama (and before him, Bill Clinton) is presiding over an angrily divided party certain to approach Election Day deeply discourged, with moderates in particular likely to defect to the GOP at the earliest possible opportunity. We’re getting a heaping helping of this sort of talk at the moment, based on whatever shards of evidence its promoters can find, from Appalachian primary protest votes, to scattered complaints about Obama’s criticism of Mitt’s Romney’s Bain Capital “credentials” for fixing the economy, to this or that obscure argument over Democratic messaging and tactics. If you want to see a classic of the genre, check out Josh Kraushaar’s recent National Journal column claiming that such meagre indicators are actually the tip of an iceberg of unhappiness with Obama among Democratic “moderates.”

Now it is true that the Donkey Party is more of a coalition party than the ideologically rigid GOP, where “dissent” is generally a matter of arguing over who is more or less vicious towards the opposition or more or less committed to the total destruction of the New Deal and the Great Society. There are divisions among Democrats on both policy matters and political strategy. Nobody much tries to hide that, and yes, if Obama loses, we’ll witness a big, brawling intraparty debate over where to go next, that won’t be much like the Republican “debate” after 2008 about exactly how hard and fast the party had to move away from anything resembling the political center. Even if Obama wins, there will be a “succession struggle” that could get ugly.

But none of this means Democrats will stay home or defect this November, which is exactly what the concern trolls tut-tutting over Democratic divisions are trying to suggest. Want some evidence? Well, look at the trend lines for Gallup’s surveys of Obama’s job approval ratings by voter category. At present, 84% of Democrats give him a positive job approval rating, one point below Clinton’s standing among Democrats at this point in 1996. 88% of self-identified “liberal Democrats” approve his job performance, as do 80% of self-identified “moderate Democrats.” And contrary to the constant suggestion that Democratic moderates are discouraged by Obama’s recent “populist” messaging, his job approval rating in this category is notably higher than it was in the summer and autumn of 2011, when he was so frequently talking about the deficit-reduction measures that supposedly make moderates feel all tingly.

So next time you read someone trying to use dismay with Obama’s rhetoric among people who work on Wall Street to “prove” some incipient “moderate Democratic” rebellion against the president’s candidacy, ask for some data, not just random quotes, rumors and anecdotes strung together to contrive a Democratic “crisis.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.