Like many Democrats over the past 40 years, Barack Obama has hoped that his association with unpopular liberal positions on cultural issues would be outweighed by pushing economic policies intended to benefit the ordinary person.
In his campaign in 2008 and as president in 2009 and 2010, he has hoped that those he characterized to a rich San Francisco Bay area audience as bitterly clinging to guns and God would be won over by programs to stimulate the economy and provide guaranteed health insurance.
At least so far, it hasn't worked, as witnessed by recent statements by some of the Democrats' smartest thinkers.
The 2009 stimulus package is so unpopular that Democrats have banned the word from their campaign vocabulary. "I'm not supposed to call it stimulus," Rep. Barney Frank told the "Daily Show's" Jon Stewart. "The message experts in Washington have told us that we're supposed to call it the recovery plan."
"I'm puzzled by that," Frank went on. "Most people would rather be stimulated than recover." The problem is, the economy has neither been stimulated nor has it recovered.
As for the health care bill, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, who has been pondering Democrats' standing with working-class voters since his perceptive 1980s studies of Reagan Democrats in Macomb County, Mich., has pretty much thrown in the towel.
In a leaked report for Democratic insiders, Greenberg and fellow pollster Celinda Lake concede that "straightforward 'policy' defenses fail to be moving voters' opinions about the law" and "many don't believe health reform will help the economy."
"Women in particular," they add, "are concerned that (the) health law will mean less provider availability -- scarcity an issue." In other words, people have figured out that government rationing may mean less supply for a product for which there is great demand.
Greenberg and Lake recommend using personal stories to highlight the law's benefits. But "don't overpromise or 'spin' what the law delivers" and don't "say the law will reduce costs and deficit."
Do say: "The law is not perfect, but it does good things and helps many people. Now we'll work to improve it." (emphasis theirs)
This amounts to an abandonment of the claims that the Obama Democrats have been making about the health care bill they jammed through five months ago. It's an admission that they messed up when they had supermajorities and will do better when they have fewer votes. It's a retreat from framing the issue as support versus oppose to revise versus repeal.