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Davis, California

Monday, May 20, 2024

Column: Change we didn’t sell

Last week, Davis College Democrats (DCD) featured prominently in The Aggie – from voter registration to Davis City Council engagement. I actually have been approached several times on campus by DCD, Students for Barack Obama and CalPIRG associates about registering to vote or voting for particular propositions, especially recently. This last-minute drive by the Democrats to get an apathetic base to go out and vote in the next couple days is frantic, to say the least. Two things, though: There is no national message and “lackluster” comes to mind as a description of their ground game.

The popular and powerful Democrats are hitting the campaign trail hard, from the first lady Michelle Obama to good ol’ President Clinton. Desperation is in the air. Obama and the Democrats are sitting anything but pretty this campaign cycle. There is no “fired up,” “ready to go,” “rock the vote” crowd, ready to storm the polls chanting the “Yes, we can!” mantra. Unlike the Republicans, who have Tea Party-loaded pistons and a sluggish economy firing them all the way to the polls, Democrats have the baggage of a high unemployment rate and a string of reforms unsold and/or unpopular to the American people, and indeed tons of explaining to do.

Students, and young people particularly, sent Obama to the White House with the audacity of hope for change. They wanted an end to the expensive Napoleonic war posture that characterizes our foreign policy. They wanted the closing of Guantanamo prisons, to restore our “do good” image on the globe, action in the form of serious legislation on energy and the environment, among other things. Obama on the campaign trail in 2008 was the answer to all the problems that the young and anxious Americans had on their minds. His “change” message resonated, big time!

However, on entering the White House, the reality of governance proved quite unlike spewing forth campaign rhetoric. The meltdown of the economy and joblessness greeted him at the Oval Office. The first order of business was a continuation of the bailout policy, or Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), that George W. Bush had started. Next, there was the healthcare legislation on which the president expended much of his political goodwill, as Republicans stonewalled it and did a darn good job of making it largely unpopular among Americans. The White House did not do the best job of selling it to the American people, either.

The Pelosi-led Congress was bogged down, done in, trying to find a non-existent middle ground, resulting in a diluted healthcare bill that no Republican voted for. Meanwhile, the narrative on the right has been rudimentary and resonating: “These tax-and-spend liberals are gunning for your money to grow government and bloat the national debt.” The Tea Party was born and suckling from the fear and anger on Main Street. Months went by, and neither Congress nor the White House was clear on the sales pitch for any of their legislation.

The Left is not happy that Obama did not go all the way in some of his promised legislation such as healthcare, hence the apathy. On their part, young people are feeling uncertainty and real-time joblessness. They don’t see a bright future in the current climate. The masterful communicator they fell for in 2008 can’t even sell his own policies and inspire hope in them. Now they get to keep their parents’ health insurance till they are 26. They don’t have to deal with greedy banks for their student loans. But who really cares? There is no conscious and enduring effort to keep the youth on board the “change” train. The middle-aged and middle-class are the deciders of next Tuesday’s elections. They have a stake in the trend of things, from foreclosures to entitlement spending. Whether they read Dick Morris’ “Take America Back” or Arianna Huffington’s “Third World America,” it is clear that they want to see a change in how Washington works. There is worry about the national debt. They may even want to see us cut 19 percent of our budget like the Brits, and rein in on entitlement spending – if that does not include their own Social Security benefits coming up soon. It’s tough, readers. It’s so tough our Congressman Mike Thompson bought TV ads this time.

In the typical procrastination, 11th hour fashion, the President and Democrats, like our own DCD here on campus, are trying to summon some momentum. There is no clear message out there to rally around in this anti-establishment and anti-incumbent political climate, typical of mid terms. Thanks to FOX, there is no ACORN to gather minority votes. I see Obama trying to reconnect with the young people who literally put him in the White House again. About time!

FAYIA SELLU can be reached at fmsellu@ucdavis.edu.


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