As the battle lines are drawn for the upcoming mid-term elections, what will be the key issues – the emotional topics, the talking points that will matter to voters? Democrats seem to be hoping the focus will be on “income equity” – the idea that it’s not fair that some folks get paid more than others.
Republicans are hoping it will be honesty and morality – as they try to paint President Obama in the worst possible light, portraying him as a leader who promises a lot, but delivers little. They are also prepping for the 2016 presidential election, pushing the message that all Democrats are liars and crooks, that America’s left wing doesn’t care anything about truth or ethics or morality – as conservatives try to hang the albatross of Bill Clinton around Hillary’s neck.
Bill and Hillary (White House photo)
But is that what voters really care about?
The two issues more likely to be in the forefront for 2014 are the weak economy and widespread disillusionment over Obamacare.
What about religious issues? “Freedom of religion is under threat around the world," President Obama warned at the recent National Prayer Breakfast.
Unfortunately, voters don’t seem all that concerned with international problems – even the persecution of Christians. Nor will they focus on the debt ceiling.“The budget and debt-limit fights have been set aside for the time being,” writes syndicated columnist Donald Lambro. Already forgotten are the battles over a debt-limit extension. A budget has been passed to keep the government running for the rest of this year.
“Suddenly, with two roll-call votes, the messy, multi-issue battles of the 2014 elections have been refocused on two central issues that will put the GOP back in charge of Congress,” says Lambro.
He forecasts the upcoming election will be “a clear referendum on the voters’ two foremost concerns:
- a weak, jobless economy and
- the “increasingly unpopular, dictatorial Obamacare law.”
“Democrats, who rarely if ever talk about either of these issues,” notes Lambro, “were hoping and praying that this year’s elections would remain muddy enough for them to save a number of their House and Senate seats from GOP takeovers.”
The economy will be the biggest election-year issue, agrees the Huffington Post’s Braden Goyette. He says unemployment has retaken its place in Americans’ minds as America’s biggest problem and cites a new Gallup poll which says 23 percent now consider joblessness the greatest challenge facing the nation. Only 16 percent thought so a month ago.
“More people named joblessness as the nation’s top problem than ‘government and politicians,’ which had been the most popular answer among survey respondents since the government shutdown last year,” writes Goyette. “Before the shutdown, jobs and the economy had topped the list.”
Only 63 percent of working-age Americans have a job or are actively looking for one – the lowest share of the population participating in the labor force since 1978. “And while the jobless rate fell last month,
the drop was due in large part to the long-term unemployed giving up on looking for work,” writes Goyette.
Obama campaign poster (National Archives)
“Some of this is due to Baby Boomers retiring — but only some,” writes Mark Gongloff. “Most of it has to do with the fact that the economy is still too weak to create enough jobs to draw people into the market. This is most clearly evident in the fact that younger people are leaving the labor force, too – or never even entering it – because they can’t find jobs.”
So, “the focus returns full-bore to two major issues on which President Obama and the Democats are weakest among the general electorate,” writes Lambro. “The early signs suggest they will get creamed on both in the fall as the economy plunges into another slump and Obamacare lurches from one debacle after another.
“If anyone thinks for a moment that the White House is not worried about the political fallout of all of this, consider what the president did Tuesday. He abruptly handed midsized-business employers a politically driven reprieve from his health care law.
“Under the new rules announced by the Treasury Department, these employers will have until 2016 — two years longer than the law intended — before they become liable for federal penalties if they do not comply with the rules requiring that they pay part of their employees’ health care.
“How conveniently timed,” says Lambro. “Warned by his advisers and top Democrats that if the penalty fines kick in this year, as the law required, Obama was in for a worse shellacking than he got in the 2010 GOP takeover of the House. This time, he faces losing the Senate.
“This is the second time Obama has been forced to change the rules in the law. Last summer, when the White House was being bombarded by business complaints, he agreed to delay the rules for one year.”
Actually some critics say Obama has – unconstitutionally – changed Obamacare 18 times now, never bothering to push the changes through Congress as required. They say the latest delays are further proof that Obamacare is in deeper political trouble than they had previously thought.
But what about morality issues?
“When President Obama highlights religious freedom, as he did” at the National Prayer Breakfast, says the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, “he is doing so as the leader of the most oppressive administration in American history. While he praises religious freedom as a ‘universal right,’ more than 90 plaintiffs are in court, fighting the White House over the loss of it under Obamacare.
“While he insists that human dignity cannot survive without ‘the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose,’ millions of suffering Christians around the world beg the U.S. to intervene on their behalf.
“While he condemns the people who would use religion to hurt others because of ‘who they love,’ the government is forcing Christian
businesses to close if they won’t participate in same-sex ‘weddings.’
“While he sends our troops into harm’s way to defend this rich legacy, thousands of service members are too worried about the backlash to exercise it themselves.
“From the comfort of a hotel ballroom, the President insists he has called out world leaders to do more to respect human rights. Yet when Congress pleads with the White House to intervene on behalf of the persecuted church in Iraq, Nigeria, China, Egypt, or Kenya after suicide bombers destroy churches and families, the response from the White House is always the same: silence.”
Unfortunately, religious freedom hasn’t caught on with voters. Maybe they don’t feel any threat to their personal freedom.
The big issue, writes Lambro, will be the economy.
Bill Clinton knew that during his campaigns for the White House. “It’s the economy, stupid,” reminded James Carville at every turn during the successful 1992 presidential campaign against President George H. W. Bush.
So, never mind all the other issues, the conversation will be about Obamacare and the economy. And “the real political killer,” writes Lambro, will be “the U.S. labor market.
Obama talks with the troops (Department of Defense photo)
“Who says so? None other than Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen, who was handpicked by the president for the job. The recovery in the labor market is ‘far from complete,’ Yellen testified before Congress and she didn’t mince words. She said the jobless rate remains much too high, and she was especially concerned about the ‘unusually large fraction’ of workers who have been jobless for six months or more.
“Millions of Americans are jobless, underemployed or have given up all hope of finding work,” writes Lambro. “The government is led by a president who hasn’t a clue about how to unlock the power of our once-mighty economy to achieve its fullest growth potential.
“Republicans need to start talking again about how job-creating tax cuts, energy expansion, trade exports and other pro-growth ideas can put America back to work.
“It’s a hopeful, optimistic message that Americans are hungry to hear again, and this is the year to do it.”