Salena Zito

Americans live and vote largely in real time, over what affects them at the moment.

At this moment, Democrats are losing over high gas prices and home foreclosures, a depressed real estate market, high unemployment, and declining wages and incomes.

The midterm election of 2010 proved that voters don’t buy the Democrats’ line that it’s all George Bush’s fault. While voters still don’t trust Republicans, they trust Democrats even less.

“The Ryan plan is manna from heaven for the Democrats,” said Bert Rockman, a political science professor at Indiana’s Purdue University, “except … that nobody knows what the Ryan plan is.”

Not much probably can be done about the deficit until after 2012.

The problem is, people like federal benefits; they just don’t want to pay for them. Politicians and labor unions have done a spectacular job of convincing us that we’re entitled to those expensive benefits.

Our governmental structure makes it extremely difficult to make tough decisions. And the two-party system, polarized as it is, makes it very difficult to come to agreement.

“So we have a better chance, ultimately, of looking like Greece than Germany,” said Rockman, “and that’s not a happy thought.”

Democrats have heavy arithmetic against them, from House reapportionment to their disproportionate share of Senate seats up for election in 2012.

Rockman thinks 2012 could be another 2000: “My most likely scenario for 2012, from the perspective of a year-and-a-half out, is that the Democrats eat into some of the Republican margin in the House – maybe 15 to 20 seats; the Republicans narrowly take over the Senate; and President Barack Obama scrapes by on … the weakness of the Republican candidate.”

Last week, first-time unemployment claims rose and the housing market dipped back to March 2009 numbers. Inflation concerns heighten daily, driven by gas and food prices.

It’s hard to push feel-good rhetoric unless people feel good.

Right now, they don’t – and for good reason.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.