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Politics 2012: They've Gone Too Far

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While the 2012 elections are twelve months away, Republicans have handed President Obama and Democrats a winning theme: "They've gone too far."

First there was the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Then came the results of the November 8 th  elections: Mississippi's rejection of a "personhood" amendment; Ohio's reaffirmation of collective bargaining rights; Arizona's recall of a reactionary politician; and other hopeful votes.  Indications that Americans are rejecting right-wing politics. 

The mood of the electorate changes slowly.  In the 2008 presidential election, there was hope for fundamental change and preference for youth (Obama) over age (McCain); Democrats prevailed.  In the 2010 midterm election, many voters were disheartened by the recession and did not vote; Republicans prevailed.  A year later, mainstream Americans are reenergized.  Disappointment with President Obama and Democrats has been supplanted by outrage at Republican extremists.

Occupy Wall Street may produce a new progressive movement but its most important contribution has been as a "mood elevator" -- a wakeup call to mainstream Americans who aren't activists, who generally watch political events on TV from the comfort of their front room.   Millions of Independent voters are reengaged, beginning to chant, "We are the 99 percent."

The sea change in public opinion is reflected in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that asked respondents to react to this statement: " The current economic structure of the country is out of balance and favors a very small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country. America needs to reduce the power of major banks and corporations and demand greater accountability and transparency. The government should not provide financial aid to corporations and should not provide tax breaks to the rich."   60 percent strongly agreed and 16 percent mildly agreed.  Mainstream America believes the middle class is broken and perceives the dominant 1 percent have too much money and political power.

Who are the 24 percent that do not agree?  Staunch Republicans.  The latest Pew Research poll characterized the US electorate.  In 2012, Pew believes that 10 percent of potential voters, mostly young people, will not vote.  Pew allocates the remaining 90 percent of potential voters to three groups: "Mostly Republican," 25 percent, "Mostly Independent," 35 percent, and "Mostly Democratic," 40 percent.

The Pew poll divides Republicans into two groups: "Staunch Conservatives" (11 percent) who are the Tea Party activists and "Main Street Republicans" (14 percent).  Since 2010, their attitudes haven't changed and continue to be reflected by GOP members of Congress.  Republicans are dogmatically defending the most powerful 1 percent but are having less impact on the electorate in general. 

According to Pew Research, the Democratic base consists of "solid liberals" (16 percent of registered voters), "hard-pressed Democrats" (15 percent), and "new coalition Democrats" (9 percent).  Since the 2010 election they've been reenergized by Occupy Wall Street, Republican attacks on women and labor, and the behavior of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.  As a consequence, the national dialogue has shifted from fiscal austerity to job-creation and economic inequality. 

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Meanwhile, Republicans have paid no attention to the change in public sentiment.  They've stuck with policies that promote the well being of their base, the dominant 1 percent, "the haves and have mores."

This dogmatic Republican stance bodes well for Democrats who challenge Republican members of the House of Representatives.   Voters are very unhappy with members of Congress.  A recent New York Times poll found that "only 33 percent of registered voters believe their own member [of Congress] deserves to be re-elected."  During the 112 th  session of Congress House Republicans have taken a number of controversial votes -- for example, approving the "Paul Ryan" budget that repeals Obama's healthcare act and cuts billions of dollars from Medicare and Medicaid -- that can be used against them in the next election; serve as evidence "they've gone too far.'

The latest Gallup Poll shows Obama slightly ahead of the generic Republican candidate.  Given the persistent recession, this is good news for the President -- who continues to have positive favorability ratings.

To prevail in 2012, President Obama needs to establish himself as the champion of the 99 percent, the defender of the middle class.  He needs to continue to fight for jobs and be identified as a fighter, in general.

Obama has tried to work with the GOP.  Now he can tell voters, "Republicans have proved they do not care about the middle class. They're only interested in defending the 1 percent.  Republicans have gone too far."

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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