Thursday, September 17, 2009

ObamaCare and Red State Democrats

As Obama saturates the Sunday news programs this weekend on FIVE stations, cunningly avoiding Fox News Sunday and their direct questions, makes another appearance on Letterman, while touring the countryside again, one has to ask -- is this Presidential?

It's no wonder his numbers keep failing, like everything else he touches.  Karl Rove recently had a debate with former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and wrote this op-ed:

ObamaCare and Red State Democrats
The president is changing the political landscape, but not in the way he intends.
by Karl Rove, September 17, 2009

On Friday, I was at DePauw University in Indiana debating former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. It was two days after Barack Obama's big speech before a joint session of Congress and Mr. Dean is a strong advocate for his party's agenda and a medical doctor, so I expected him to defend the president's idea of adding a "trigger" to health-care reform to ease its passage and thereby guarantee a government takeover of our health-care system.

But Mr. Dean turned out to be tougher on triggers than I was. He called them a "terrible" idea.

It's now becoming clear that Mr. Obama's speech failed to rally voters and failed to inspire Democrats to follow their president's lead. And while the fissures are small now (Mr. Dean's worry seems to be that triggers would give too much away to Republicans), they will likely widen unless the president shows that his policies will do what his campaign did--expand the pool of voters in favor of Democrats.

That's not happening now. A Gallup poll this week found that 38% of Americans say their representative should vote for ObamaCare--40% want their member to vote against it. It was 37%-39% on the same question the day before Mr. Obama spoke.

Part of Mr. Obama's problem is his language. His speech contained little new information and his tone was unpresidential. Instead of binding Americans to his cause, he called legitimate concerns "misinformation," "false," "demagoguery," "distortion" or "tall tales." Earlier in the week he declared them "lies." This was like calling people with concerns stupid, and it's not the way to win them over.

Take the issue of illegal aliens. The president's assertion that his reform "would not apply to those who are here illegally" drew an angry eruption from a GOP House backbencher. Then late Friday night, the White House quietly announced that proof of citizenship would be required to enroll in the president's health plan. This closed the loophole that provoked Rep. Joe Wilson. Had Mr. Obama acknowledged the concern and offered a solution in his speech, he would have come across as reasonable.

Mr. Obama is forgetting that the political landscape can change when the pool of people who vote changes. In 2008, five million more people voted than in 2004. Mr. Obama drew two million more African-Americans to the polls. He also shifted support among younger voters (ages 18-24) from 54% Democratic, 45% Republican in 2004 to 66% Democratic, 32% Republican.

Today, Mr. Obama's approval among young voters is down 10 points since July, according to Gallup polls. It may drop more when those voters discover that the plan put out by Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) this week would fine them up to $950 a year for not being insured. Young people are 9.9% of the population. Fining them only antagonizes them.

Fiscally conservative independents who were already upset with Mr. Obama's stimulus spending will only be more upset with his health-care plan. It starts running annual deficits in its third year, piles up $219 billion in deficits in its first decade, and could add $1 trillion to the debt in its second.

Last weekend's grassroots rally against ObamaCare in Washington was a sign that voters are getting active to oppose the president's agenda. If it keeps up, middle-class anxiety about the national debt could make 2010 a tough year for any Democrat up for re-election.

Those Democrats will soon notice that seniors are worried about Mr. Obama's proposed Medicare cuts and that Hispanics--the fastest growing part of the electorate--are slipping away from the president. Gallup polls reveal his support among Hispanics fell 14 points to 67% over the summer. Mr. Obama may be changing the electorate for 2010, but in the wrong direction for his party. This has worried many of the 70 Democrats in congressional districts carried by George W. Bush or John McCain.

Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire's district went 55% for Mr. McCain last year. After Mr. Obama's speech, he called the House bill "flawed" and said, "We can do better." Ohio Rep. John Boccieri, whose district favored Mr. McCain 50%-48%, told reporters, "I don't believe the president has shifted any of my opinions." Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith, whose district gave Mr. McCain 61% of its vote, called for health-care reform "without expanding government or adding more debt to an already overburdened treasury."

And it's not only Democrats in red districts who are questioning the president. California Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa followed the speech by saying it hadn't swayed them. Mr. Obama carried their districts with 60% of the vote. Reps. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Artur Davis of Alabama, both African-Americans, voiced similar sentiments.

Mr. Obama will appear on five news shows on Sunday. His time might be better spent praying for more public support.

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush. Read more of his articles at