The Complacency Gap.

In his interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama admonished Democrats for their low enthusiasm:

"It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election," the president told the magazine.

Obama went on to describe his administration as the "most successful in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward," and said it was flat out "irresponsible" for Democrats to stay home on Election Day.

"The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible," he said. "Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election."

I'm not entirely sure that "enthusiasm" is a helpful word, in part because it can obscure more than it can illuminate. When we say that Democrats aren't enthusiastic about voting, what does that actually mean? It could mean that Democrats are angry and dissatisfied with President Obama, and thus withholding their vote, or as Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen argued last week, it could mean that Democrats are really satisfied with the president, and don't see a clear reason for voting:

What these numbers suggest to me is that Democrats staying home aren't necessarily disappointed with how things have gone so far. The Democrats not voting are more pleased with how Obama's done than the Democrats who are voting. And when you're happy you simply don't have the sense of urgency about going out and voting to make something change. That complacency, more than the Republicans, is Democrats' strongest foe this year.

This makes a lot of sense; Obama drew in a lot of new voters in 2008, but how many of them were inspired to vote for Democrats, and how many of them were inspired to vote for Obama? My guess is that a fair number of those Obama voters are people who drifted back into complacency now that they've elected their favored candidate; they just aren't that interested in coming out to vote for Democrats. And for those voters who are inclined to support Democrats, it's possible that they're content with the administration's performance, given the passage of big-ticket items like health care and financial reform. In which case, chastising Democrats won't help and might even discourage those Democrats who are inclined to vote.

One last thing, I found it hilarious that Obama would say this in his administration's defense: "If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we'd better fight in this election." As Glenn Greenwald and Kevin Drum have noted, this is kind of ridiculous; if you want a country that respects civil liberties, you would do well to shun the Obama administration, given its recent enthusiasm for secret assassinations and Internet wiretaps. I think it's true that Obama has been successful with domestic policy, yes, but the praise ends there.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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