NEW YORK--Normally I stay out of the political prognostication racket. It's as thankless as writing for Arianna Huffington.
Politically, 2010 could end up a big year. First, the economy will continue to sour. There may be small up-ticks, but the overall picture will keep trending downward. Credit markets won't loosen, there will be more bankruptcies and more foreclosures.
I'm a pessimist because none of the structural problems have been addressed. No one has done anything to put more money into the pockets of consumers or businesses. More bailouts and stimulus packages might help, but Congress won't approve them after bankers used the loot to buy new yachts.
President Barack Obama's job-approval rating is tied to the unfolding fiscal apocalypse. Unless there's another 9/11, his numbers will plunge toward the Dick Cheney zone.
Obama could have done a lot to ease the economic pain: direct federal assistance to homeowners, nationalize insolvent banks, giant New Deal-style federal employment projects funded by immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, he kept the Bush administration's policies and personnel.
There's also a racist component to Obama's problems with the electorate. Obama is much like David Dinkins, elected in 1989 as New York City's first black mayor. Dinkins made the mistake of thinking that African Americans were his political base. They weren't.
Dinkins made a lot of boneheaded moves, such as ordering white teachers be laid off first. "Never again," I heard countless white liberals say. "They [blacks] had their chance." White anger at Dinkins was out of proportion to his performance; if he was the same mayor, but white, he wouldn't have been as reviled.
We're seeing that now. Obama is just another Bill Clinton, unwilling to seize the opportunities afforded by the economic meltdown. White voter remorse, however, is a bitch. Americans hate Obama more than they would hate Clinton because he's black.
Conventional wisdom says the Democrats will lose seats in November. But no one is predicting a 1994 bloodbath. The GOP is too fractured. Writes Nancy Cohen in the Los Angeles Times: "what was most important about 1994 politically won't make or break the 2010 elections. Congress changed hands in 1994 because the Christian right recruited new voters and white Southerners shifted to the GOP." That won't happen in 2010, she says. "Neither evangelicals nor white Southerners can swing this year's election, because they are the Republican Party."
Generally, I agree with Cohen. But I think Democratic losses will be more severe than the experts expect. Voters are being forced to flop back and forth between two parties they hate, but their contempt for the Democrats will be particularly toxic.
Obama's Democrats, on the other hand, ran as agents of hope and change. It wouldn't be as bad for them if their party's standard bearer hadn't failed so spectacularly, managing to live down to Sen. John McCain's denigrating portrayal of him as an empty suit.
Nothing pisses people off more than being promised the big and then failing to receive even the small.