IRS, Benghazi “Scandals” Won’t Hurt Dems in 2014

by Randy Shaw on May 20, 2013

According to conventional wisdom, the IRS and Benghazi “scandals,” coupled with a difficult roll out of Obamacare, have energized Republicans and spell problems for Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, whose words are gospel for millions, suggested last week that, while the impact of most scandals is less than many think, the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups “has the potential to harm Democrats’ performance in next year’s midterm elections, partly by motivating a strong turnout from the Republican base.” But as Silver knows, Democratic losses in midterm elections are primarily caused not by a galvanized GOP base but by a demoralized and/or unenergized Democratic one. This means that Democratic success in 2014 hinges not on the impact of the IRS and other “scandals” but on passing comprehensive immigration reform, rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline, and avoiding a budget deal that undermines Social Security. Success on these issues will get young people and others who back Democrats in presidential election cycles to go to the polls in 2014, proving again that good policies are the best politics.

Since the 2012 elections, the mainstream media has been eager to promote a narrative of a down and out Republican Party coming off the mat to beat Democrats in 2014. GOP opposition to a watered down gun background check measure and its extreme positions on most issues has challenged this framing, which is why well before the IRS “scandal” the media was insisting that Obamacare rollout would hurt Democrats in 2014.

Typical was Politico’s April 30 article, “Democrats fret over Obamacare as 2014 looms” claiming that “Democrats are fretting that Obamacare is going to crush their hopes of big gains in the midterm elections, just like it cost them the House in 2010.” They quote conservative Democratic Senator Max Baucus warning that Obamacare could prove a “train wreck,” and the story claims that “panic” has set in over its rollout.

But linking the GOP’s revival to Obamacare required ignoring Democratic victories in 2008 and 2012. It also wrongfully attributed the GOP’s 2010 success to the health care law rather than to President Obama’s failure to deliver on most of his 2008 campaign agenda.

So the media’s effort to associate Obamacare with a 2014 GOP resurgence failed to gain traction. This required a new search for reasons for a Democratic debacle in 2014, which led them to seize upon Benghazi and the IRS.

Ignoring The Democrats Electoral Base

The sheer ignorance and laziness of many mainstream pundits can be shocking, and is most commonly seen when conventional wisdom drives coverage. Thus, Maureen Dowd writes in the May 19 Sunday New York Times that “everyone” is following the IRS issue when on May 18 fellow Times columnist Charles Blow revealed a Gallup poll (released May 17, at least two days before Dowd’s column) showing that only 40% of Democrats and 55% of Independents are closely following the issue.

The numbers on Benghazi are similar, with 2/3 of Republicans in both cases closely following the issues. In other words, the voters who Democrats need to get to the polls in 2014 are not the ones driving either “scandal,” and those who care the most are solid- turnout Republicans.

In the Beltway cocoon of Dowd and most other national pundits, the Latino voters whose primary concern is immigration reform, the young people focused on jobs, lower student loan interest rates, and women’s and gay rights, and the millions deeply concerned about climate change and the Keystone XL Pipeline do not exist.

The pundit’s world is that of the overwhelmingly older whites who get their information from FOX News. And if they are up in arms over Benghazi and the IRS, then the pundits see a trend.

Democrats Winning Strategy for 2014

Despite past history showing the difficulty of getting young people and other “infrequent” voters to the polls in midterm elections, the Democrats have never had a clearer path to victory.

First, Democrats must stay firm on enacting comprehensive immigration reform. Latino voters brought Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid re-election win in 2010, and this constituency will vote in even greater numbers in 2014 if their enthusiasm is fueled by the passage of this priority measure.

Second, President Obama must reject the Keystone XL Pipeline, a decision that now has been put off until 2014. If the President intends to approve a project that completely undercuts his credibility on climate change, he better wait until after November 2014 because earlier action will decimate young voter turnout.

If anyone is still uncertain about Keystone, take a look at this multi-story mound of tar sands now bordering the Detroit River. The Koch Brothers, the leading funders of the GOP, are responsible for this outrage.

Third, Democrats will win in 2014 if they refuse to weaken Social Security. This means Obama must avoid a GOP-backed “grand bargain” and that Democrats must rise up against the President if he tries to do so.

Scandals do not put Democrats at risk in 2014; rather, it’s the potential failure to energize their own base. If activists continue to build momentum, success in all three of these policy areas will bring electoral success next year.

Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century

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