As Democrats smart from the loss of a special election in Florida because of the unpopularity of President Obama, the CIA under his administration is accused of spying on the Intelligence Committee of a Democratic Senate, and a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds disapproval of the president among Democrats rising to 20 percent, the Washington Post headlines, incredibly, "Obama sounds midterm alarms for Democrats."
Mr. President, Democrats are alarmed. About you.
The legacy of the Obama presidency could well include the destruction of Democratic control of the House, the Senate and a majority of governorships and state legislatures across America. Democrats can prevent this. My warning to Democrats and to Obama -- whose presidency will effectively end if the outcome in 2014 is unfavorable -- is that they must understand the gravity of the danger and the urgent need to improvise, adapt and do some things very differently.
For example, with Florida Democrat Alex Sink being hurt by Obamacare's unpopularity, it was thoughtless and politically inept for Obama to spend three important days before the special election being visible on local news vacationing in Florida.
There are three domestic political requirements for any president. The first is running a presidential campaign. Obama excels at this and has brilliantly executed raising big money and launching negative attacks against a single opponent.
The second is working with Congress. Obama has failed on this front. He assumed office lacking relationships that are essential to governing, yet he has refused to invest the time to build these relationships with congressional Democrats or Republicans.
The third requirement is creating a program, shaping a narrative and exciting the base to win midterm elections to enact that program. In 2010 Obama surrendered the national narrative to the tea party while his staff insulted the Democratic base with condescending pejoratives such as "the professional left," often for supporting policies he claimed to support, including the public option in health insurance.
The president has described himself as "like a Rorschach test," inducing divergent voters to project their views onto him. This works well in presidential elections, but it is disastrous in midterm elections. The effect angers and energizes Republican voters while anesthetizing and depressing many Democratic voters, who then stay home for midterms.
The original sin of Obama-style governing is that he never even tried to close the so-called revolving door or change the way Washington works as he had promised. Many Democrats outside Washington believe it is obscene when some of his former staff, including ex-White House aide Jim Messina, hustle business deals ferociously, often from sources that real Democrats consider unsavory.
Democrats need Robert Kennedys, not Karl Roves. With Kennedy it was all hands on deck; under Obama it is many hands in the till. When the candidate of hope and change becomes the president of revolving-door profiteering from special-interest greed, Democratic turnout suffers.
Obama appears to pride himself on lacking deep philosophical convictions, but it is these convictions, as well as bold programs to advance them and powerful mobilizations to enact them, that are the seed corn for midterm campaigns.
The danger for Democrats is that the core of Obama's style may be the curse on Democrats' midterm chances.
Obama and the Clintons should make it clear that they don't want consultant-driven superPACs, such as Ready for Hillary and Priorities USA, to siphon money from 2014 Democratic candidates. It is political suicide to hoard money for Clinton in 2016 with grave danger facing Democrats under heavy attack in 2014 from the Koch brothers and other super-wealthy rightists.
Instead of golfing with sports celebrities in Key Largo during foreign crises, Obama should mobilize them to market Obamacare to young people to help Democrats facing a political health-care crisis.
Obama should cut back aggressive deportations, which are poison with Hispanic voters, and wage all-out battles for a dramatic jobs bill, for unemployment benefits, for raising the minimum wage and for immigration reform -- even if this means calling a perpetually vacationing Congress back into session.