Commentary Magazine


Democrats Afraid to Be Seen with Obama?

Competing for a speaking slot at the Democratic and Republican parties’ presidential nominating conventions is a time-honored tradition every four years. The reason is simple: presidential nominees are generally popular within the party and may be the next leader of the free world, and the conventions provide an opportunity to be seen and heard by millions of Americans. (Nielsen keeps historical convention ratings for Democrats here, and Republicans here.)

So it is surely a sign of something close to panic that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee head Steve Israel is publicly advising Democrats to stay home from President Obama’s nominating convention this year:

The man responsible for getting Democrats elected to the Congress this fall has a message for his party’s candidates: Stay away from the Democratic National Convention in September.

“If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts,” New York Congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Reuters Washington Summit on Tuesday.

Who would have guessed the clear favorite for “least convincing political spin of the year” would go to someone other than Jay Carney or Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Not a single person will buy this spin, for two reasons: First, even if the Democrats expected another wave election in favor of the GOP, the very candidates most susceptible to that wave–less experienced members of the House–would benefit most by appearing at the convention, as it would raise their profile. And second, the announcement from Israel came after Democratic politicians began heading for the lifeboats.

The most notable of these Democrats was Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, whose declaration that she would be caught nowhere near the president’s convention seems to have spooked her party into making a monumental unforced error. If Democrats think they’re headed for another shellacking at the polls, perhaps they know something the rest of the country doesn’t. Because there haven’t been any serious indicators of such a wave–at least nothing like 2010.

Volunteering that information won’t help them, because it won’t increase turnout and it will draw attention to the left’s sense of impending doom–something that occasionally develops into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It also forces media outlets to report a story that has thus far flown below the radar. If this were happening to a Republican administration, mainstream newspapers would be running story after story about how the president is so unpopular, even within his own party, that no one will be seen with him, his governance too radical even for the radicals.

But those stories had yet to appear this time, with the media’s election-year sensitivity to Obama’s image helpfully guiding them. Israel took a story the president’s allies were keeping under wraps and put it in neon lights. Don’t believe the polls showing Obama and Romney just about even, the DCCC itself seems to be saying, the president is politically toxic and everyone knows it.

Well, now everyone knows it.