I lean very heavily left on almost every social, economic, and diplomatic issue, so naturally I would like to see Senate Democrats retain their majority (actually, I feel the Democratic Party is too centrist and verges on conservatism, but at some point we must be political realists).
Maybe this is a flawed methodology, but I, like a majority of political commentators, am viewing the actions and rhetoric coming out of the White House through the lens of close 2014 races in the Senate. I can’t come up with any legitimate reason why the President would be placing a priority on anything other than not losing six seats, because preventing a Republican majority in both houses is a prerequisite to doing… anything… in the next two years.
Here’s a list of issues/initiatives which are being pressed/sold presently and concurrently by the White House:
1. Obama’s new, $3.9 trillion dollar budget (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/05/us/politics/obama-submits-budget-to-congress.html)
2. Obama’s FAFSA sign-up drive thing (http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/07/3979874/president-obama-to-unveil-fafsa.html)
3. Minority men outreach program (“My Brother’s Keeper”) (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obama-to-launch-major-new-effort-on-young-men-of-color/2014/02/11/cc0f0a98-92cd-11e3-b227-12a45d109e03_story.html)
4. Transportation Infrastructure spending insecurity (http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-obama-transportation-infrastructure-20140226,0,2538194.story)
5. Three or four different foreign policy objectives tangled up in the Russia-Ukrainian situation (How do we respond to Russian invasion? Do we let Crimea vote on whether or not to become a part of Russia? How do we respond to the overwhelmingly positive response to annexation? Do we start employing fracked nat-gas as a geopolitical tool against Russia to prevent this in the future?) (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/world/europe/ukraine.html?partner=rss&emc=rss, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/world/europe/us-seeks-to-reduce-ukraines-reliance-on-russia-for-natural-gas.html?partner=rss&emc=rss)
6. Although this doesn’t come directly from the White House, the Senate controversy regarding whether or not to reform sexual assault in the military is absolutely relevant (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/07/us/politics/military-sexual-assault-legislation.html?hpw&rref=politics)
7. A last-minute ACA signup drive targeting Latino, Black, and young people who were originally the target demographic of the legislation but are not turning out as expected
The immediate problem with this list is that it is HUMONGOUS. The presidency confers certain politically valuable tools to s/he who holds the office, but there are definite limitations on even Obama’s influence; each additional objective the White House stakes out as a goal reduces the potency of any potential political strategy which might be used by the Party to actually bring policy home. If Obama fails to deliver in a public fashion on any issue, then the capacity of the White House to effectively politicize would be absolutely crushed under the weight of negative press; progress on every other front would grind to a halt. Failure snowballs, and the party has planted a fuckload of snow. Establishing this many distinct political objectives in the months leading up to a key set of midterms makes southern Democrats who are struggling to hold on to their seats even more vulnerable.
The effects of disaster would primarily manifest themselves in A) ancillary attack ads available to Republicans for tough senate races (the key point will, naturally, be the ACA, but having secondary material is beneficial from a campaign point of view), and B) a further reduction in Obama’s already dismal approval rate. Each implication independently makes convincing swing voters to cast blue ballots a lot more difficult, and makes the party less attractive on the national stage. The left already failed to deliver on immigration reform, made dramatic budgetary concessions to keep the government functioning, and really hasn’t even touched any of the core planks of the Democratic Party in the last two years; the last thing we need is to be brandishing the sword and agitating for performance in a congress which has already proven to be systemically incapable of passing legislation.
Even if some policy fairy magically delivers on every point, senate targets already have bacon to wave: An economically stellar 2014 Q1 and a highly positive financial outlook for the rest of the year (http://www.kiplinger.com/tool/business/T019-S000-kiplinger-s-economic-outlooks/). There’s not much to be gained from having the option to parade a misshapen and rather unambitious set of policies in front of largely southern voters who are overwhelmingly concerned with the economy. It seems like any basic risk/reward calculus would quickly reveal that the plan currently being pursued is profoundly dangerous and lacks meaningful upside.