Case of a hard-sell economic fix

Pocketbook issues always trump everything else when the time rolls around for folks to go to the polls. And that’s why the recent bump in approval rating reported for the president following that successful takeout of bin Laden couldn’t possibly be interpreted by Obama and his team as a cue to hit the cruise control button through November of 2012. If the Obama camp lacked for hard reminders of the folly of prematurely resting on laurels, they need only look to the example of Bush the First, whose stratospheric approval numbers zoomed into the 90s after Saddam Hussein’s troops got manhandled in the first Gulf War. Alas, came a rough economic stretch to scuttle all of that by 1992, a condition Bill Clinton cleverly pounced on to make Bush a one-termer.

As it looks now, next year will be no different. Obama’s riding of those heroics in Pakistan the other day will have been long spent. Should there still be the kind of pinch, economically, that consumed voters last November (accompanied by the obligatory merchandising histrionics from opponents, naturally), with Democrats paying the price, more of the same figures to be a pretty good prognostication.

Payback, they say, is a you-know-what. And Republicans seem determined to complicate the economic picture some, with the doomsday choices they insist are the only way forward for any hope of continued economic buoyancy for the country. A prescription that engenders fear in the elderly and infirm about the future of Social Security and Medicare touches a nerve in many a voter that in large measure will override the visceral anti-Obama sentiment that right-side movement leaders are wont to stoke. So seemingly out of the blue, we now have national party bigwigs with their eyes on New York as a bellwether for how much of this new GOP-authored belt tightening folks are prepared to accommodate.

By all that’s reasonable, one would think the 26th Congressional District upstate New York to be a seat neatly packaged for delivery to Democrats, once the former Republican incumbent had that wild Craigslist episode in which his shirtless image became a cause célèbre and forced his resignation. But seeing as how, in that neck of the woods, they have a reputation as the most conservative district in the state, even this guy’s indiscretions were supposed to present nary an impediment to Republican retention of the seat in the special election called for May 24.

But in yet another instance of seizing on unsettling economic developments to make political hay, the Democratic candidate has apparently turned the race into no shoo-in for the GOP. And it’s been a concentration by the Democrat on the House Republicans’ proposed slash-and-burn ways with the federal budget – those marquee entitlement programs in particular — that has produced what appears to be some unexpected high drama, contest-wise, in New York’s 26th. Word is that the presence in the race of a fellow wearing Tea Party vestments isn’t helping the GOP cause either.

If the Democrat, Kathleen Hochul, wins or at least makes a tight race of it, the message sent clearly would be that even for hard-core conservatives among the masses, strong pushback is entirely possible when the tacticians and top brass go for a bridge too far on pocketbook-related stuff. Having handily regained the House last November, it could well be that Republicans read too much into a mandate that likely had more to do with job shrinkage, prolonged housing sector turbulence and rising consumer prices. The long-term draconian fix that cost-cutting conservatives evidently see themselves tasked to apply to still-struggling economy may not be resonating in quite the manner they expected with some working-class and middle-class elements of the support base.

The somewhat curious part of the narrative is that this round of Republican control of the House is but four months along. If mass support on that side is softening because of what’s now seen as extreme measures being advocated by designated torchbearers, we could be in record-setting territory, with the economy having sucker-punched one Capitol Hill bunch and so swiftly sticking it to the alleged solution finders who replaced them.

What lends a certain level of legitimacy to conservatives’ uncompromising action plan of radical surgery on government spending, regardless of who or what gets victimized, is the cold truth that the federal deficit should indeed be reduced. President Clinton’s success on that front, to the extent of leaving a surplus when he handed over to George Bush, seems so long ago. Be that as it may, fact is there’s a template of Republican/Tea Party/conservative behavior with which we’re all familiar. Routinely coming down on the side of those better equipped to navigate daunting socioeconomic obstacles is pretty much part of the right side’s DNA – pro business, anti business regulation, pro tax cuts for the wealthy, pro subsidies for big oil, etc. So swinging a budget axe that bears no marks of sensitivity for bottom feeders is what’s expected from that crowd.

There was always a chance Obama’s being president would induce, among the least privileged of his hardened detractors, the conflicting tugs of that congenital dislike of the man and basic human need as unavoidable reality. Republicans absolutely wouldn’t themselves diagram it this way, but here they are, on this budget issue, providing an opportunity for bottom feeders supposedly on their side to give them the old finger salute.

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