Ron Brownstein has an excellent column out today that shows why progressives should be worrying, above all else, about the economy. First, Brownstein points out something progressives probably don’t mind hearing: the GOP has faced a key post-election test — moving to the center — and so far they are earning a failing grade. As Brownstein puts it, “For Republicans, the key question [after the election] was whether a congressional caucus rooted in the nation’s most conservative areas could court the broader coalition the party needs to regain the presidency.” The problem is that many GOP members are focused on their conservative and often very white constituents’ desires, which often alienate the Democratic base. “The GOP’s struggle to culturally connect with the coalition of the ascendant will help Democrats sustain it,” Brownstein adds.
But he also points out something progressives may not want to hear: the Democrats have also faced a key post-election test — fixing the economy — and so far they too are earning a failing grade. The main task is to deliver a growing economy, or at least a credible path to get there, but many groups are feeling pessimistic:
[C]ollege-educated white women [in the National Journal poll] expressed dim opinions of his economic performance (only 28 percent thought his agenda would increase their opportunities), and minorities and millennials were much more likely than others to describe their economic situation as poor or only fair. Last fall, Obama won the support of just over seven in 10 Hispanics, but roughly as many in the new poll described their economic standing in those grim terms.
Although the confrontations over guns and immigration that Obama has pressed create cultural hurdles for the GOP, they may also prompt voters to conclude, as they did in his first two years, that he is focusing on priorities other than their economic concerns…If growth remains lackluster….Democrats can never be entirely secure about their hold on voters who see neither economic gains nor a clear plan to deliver them.
In other words, despite the GOP’s failure to move to the center, the Democrats’ ability to capitalize on this failure is fundamentally compromised by their own failure to fix the economy. What should be a rout for the Democrats is turning into a grinding stalemate with the possibility of a 2010-style political disaster always looming on the horizon.
But if the situation is difficult here for progressives, it is far more dire in Europe. There, the economy is in much worse shape. As just one example, check out this list from the IMF of the world’s slowest growing countries: six of the top eleven slowest-growing countries are Eurozone countries.
And in Europe the left is not in a stalemate. It is in free fall. Social democrats and labor parties in France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Ireland have dismal poll numbers, and the UK Labour Party is also seeing its popularity fall. At the same time, many voters are turning to center-right parties in Iceland, Italy, France, and Ireland.
A common slogan in progressive street protests in Europe has been “Austerity Kills.” Turns out the slogan also applies to the left itself. That’s why there is no bigger problem for progressives today than fixing the economy.