Opinion

TOM KEANE

Democrats’ coalition will rise again

Standing in front of a cheering crowd last Tuesday, her family and friends behind her, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen gave a victory speech straight out of the Democratic playbook.

“With the new term you’ve given me, I will fight to make sure that students can refinance their student loans,” the reelected senator told a cheering crowd. “I will fight for a smart energy policy . . . I will fight for a minimum wage . . . I will fight for equal pay for equal work . . . I will fight for smart, serious national security policies . . . I will always fight for a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. And . . . I will never stop fighting to make sure that everyone in New Hampshire has access to quality affordable health care.”

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Let’s see:

Young adults? Check.

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Environmentalists? Check.

Low-income folks? Check.

Working women? Check.

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Pease Air National Guard Base and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard? Check.

Pro-choice crowd? Check.

Health care advocates? Check.

Democrats have been doing this for years, winning by appealing to individual constituencies, building a coalition that can add up to majority. It’s a tried-and-true strategy, and for Shaheen, it worked — helped no doubt by scathing ads ripping challenger Scott Brown as a carpetbagger who’s only in it for himself.

Elsewhere, though, it failed. Democrats lost hugely and the GOP won big. Interest group politics weren’t enough to overcome overwhelming voter gloom about the future of the nation.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m with Shaheen on almost all of the issues she cited. Yet some elections are about more than just pet peeves and concerns, and this was one of them. Americans are deeply worried about the economy and the direction of the nation. A CBS exit poll on Election Day, for instance, found 71 percent thought the economy was doing badly. Even more, 78 percent were fearful it would do worse in the future. Only 22 percent thought life for the next generation would be better than it was today, and only 28 percent said they were better off now than two years ago. It’s little wonder, with concerns such as these, that the incumbent party got the boot.

The good news for Democrats, however, is that someday soon things will turn around. It’s the nature of politics. Moreover, voter perceptions notwithstanding, things really are getting better.

Monthly data that came out three days after the election showed that employers added 214,000 jobs in October, the ninth month in a row with gains of 200,000 or more. The unemployment rate fell to a six-year low of 5.8 percent. In the third quarter, gross domestic product increased at a 3.5 percent rate. Inflation remained low — indeed, the price of gasoline has fallen by almost a dollar to below three dollars, a true boon to consumers. And the stock market continued to hit new highs.

Yes, things aren’t perfect. The rebound is slower than we’d like. Moreover, labor participation rates are still low (meaning many have simply given up looking for a job) and earnings for the middle class are rising slowly, if at all. Still, the latest data showed a drop in unemployment even as labor participation improved and concerns about economic inequality would seem to be a natural for Democrats.

So why didn’t Democrats get credit for this in 2014? Some argue that people just didn’t “feel” the rebound, and there’s much truth to that. Dry statistics weren’t enough to counter the waves of fear from the Great Recession that continue to wash over us.

Eventually those waves will recede. Thing will settle down and the mood of pessimism will lift. Politics tends to go in cycles. Democrats were in ascendency six years ago; Republicans are up now. That too will change as broad worries give way to narrow concerns, creating the perfect opportunity for Democrats to rebuild their coalition piece by piece by piece.

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Tom Keane can be reached at tomkeane@tomkeane.com.
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