Froma Harrop: The Democrats’ chronic depression

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop

“Smiles at the gas pump,” my local headline reads. The price of gasoline has fallen below $3 a gallon.

When the national average rose last year to $3.51, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, complained that “the liberal anti-free market policies of the Obama administration discourage the exploration of American sources of energy and hinder production and job growth.”

Now it’s below $3. By the way, U.S. production of oil and gas is at record levels.

So where is the brass band? This is a question for Democrats.

And we won’t get a good answer until Democrats shake off their chronic depression. Democrats tend to internalize the relentless attacks against them. Constantly on the defense, they explain rather than proclaim. When they ignore their successes and avoid the president who oversaw them, voters think that perhaps the other side has a point.

“You cannot win if you’re afraid,” former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, said after his party’s recent electoral losses.

To be honest, presidents have little power over the price of gasoline. And to be evenhanded, when Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he blamed $4-a-gallon gas on George W. Bush. Yesteryear’s gas price wasn’t Bush’s doing, and today’s isn’t Obama’s.

But if one’s political foes smash this particular ball over the net, the other side surely has a right to return it under favorable circumstances. If people are smiling at the gas pump, why isn’t the Obama administration smiling with them? Where are the tubas?

Last year, we heard the baloney that Obama’s reluctance to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, expand some offshore drilling and back the Keystone XL pipeline had caused gasoline prices to surge — 86 percent from the day the president took office.

Firstly, Obama started his presidency in the jaws of an economic meltdown. The prices of a lot of things were collapsing then, among them gasoline.

Secondly, from 2002 to 2008, when Bush was president, gasoline prices exploded 397 percent, to $4.11 a gallon. Would anyone have accused George W. of being hostile to energy development?

It was not Obama’s genius but the revolution in drilling technologies that opened up the new production. Nevertheless, under Obama, the United States has replaced Russia as the largest non-OPEC supplier of gas and oil. Suffice it to say, Obama has hardly stamped out energy development in this country.

Sadly, Obama has never been much for cheerleading, an important skill for a president. He never mastered the art of the bully pulpit. Democrats are justifiably frustrated by these failings.

But this habit of abandoning their president under assault by the right-wing noise machine is nothing new. Recall the 2000 presidential campaign, when Democratic candidate Al Gore distanced himself from the sitting president, Bill Clinton.

The economy was bubbling, and the budget overflowing with surplus. But Gore had bought into his enemies’ line that Clinton, because of his foolish tryst, had become despised across the land.

Never mind that Democrats had made significant gains in the midterms after the scandal broke. Never mind that Clinton would leave office with a higher approval rating than did Ronald Reagan.

Fast-forward to today. Unemployment has fallen below 6 percent. Stocks are hitting all-time highs. And the deficit has been cut by more than half in less than six years.

It’s true that Americans in the middle and lower economic tiers still suffer from stagnant wages, but Democrats could tell them: “You’re next. This recovering economy is set to serve you. And don’t forget that you now have the security of guaranteed health coverage.”

But Democrats don’t talk that way. What a depressed lot they’ve become.


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