The president’s budget and congressional responses will have a revolutionary impact on American politics that will either cement the total domination of the right and humiliation of progressives in the battle of ideas, or pave the way for House Dems to restore Democratic control in 2012.
The budget debate will be revolutionary because it forces real choices, decimating real programs and hurting real voters of a nation with a faux consensus that extreme action to reduce the deficit is urgently needed — so long as that extreme action imposes severe pain on somebody else.
The politics become volatile and incendiary when the rubber of deficit reduction meets the road of pain and suffering imposed on individual voters. The polls today are irrelevant. Public opinion will shift in dramatic and unpredictable ways once the happy drunk of deficit-reduction promises brings the hangover headache of deciding which voters will suffer what pain.
House Democrats have a good chance to regain control with an aggressive insurgent strategy.
First, the numbers. By Election Day 2012 the Democrats will need to win about 25 seats to regain control of the House, mostly from the more than 60 current House Republicans running in districts that were won by President Obama in 2008. This goal is well within reach.
Life is unfair, but this works both ways. House Democrats endured an inferior tactical position in 2010 but have major tactical advantages in 2012. They do not have to pass legislation, support the president’s budget, vote for a Republican budget or defend any status quo.
Next, the strategy. House Democrats should offer legislation in the tradition of real Democrats, and campaign as insurgents against a status quo that is highly unpopular and will be more unpopular as the deficit wars intensify.
House Democrats can make a high stand on principle, align themselves with a majority of voters, rally their base and seize the high ground in 60 swing districts by launching a pure play push for what Democrats believe, unencumbered by the White House or the Senate. They should take their fight directly to Tea Party Republicans in a debate that is long overdue.
House Republicans would increase the deficit by repealing healthcare benefits for Americans, keeping government healthcare for themselves and defending tax cuts for the most wealthy. House Democrats would be morally, financially and politically right to refuse to support the pain Republicans would impose on the middle class.
House Democrats should let Republicans run in 2012 on a platform of hurting the middle class, workers, students, women and the poor while exempting the most wealthy from even minimal shared sacrifice.
House Democrats should fight for programs that create more jobs, stand with veterans, reform Washington, promote small business and defend workers, and if they are defeated on the House floor, they could take their case to voters and win in 2012.
Nancy Pelosi is on the ropes and out of favor. Republicans are using every weapon to win a conservative Republican president, Senate, House and Supreme Court.
But: if House Democrats fight back, they can win 25 seats and restore the House to a Democratic majority. The minority leader on the ropes today would be the Speaker once again.