The Obama presidency has been a devil’s bargain for Democrats. Despite the considerable policy accomplishments to its credit, the administration’s political impact has been virtually catastrophic. Since Obama’s victory in 2008, Democrats are down seventy seats in the House and fifteen in the Senate, giving an increasingly reactionary Republican Party the power to stymie most if not all of the Democrats’ agenda. But this actually understates the damage. Democrats are now the minority in over two-thirds of the nation’s partisan state legislative chambers, their worst showing in history. In twenty-three of these, Republicans will control the governor’s office, too. (The corresponding number for Democrats is just seven.)
The Affordable Care Act and the executive order expanding the rights of undocumented immigrants were certainly the right thing to do from the perspective of Democratic values, but both are politically poisonous at present. Obamacare undermines a key Democratic constituency badly in need of help: labor unions. The immigration order fires up anti-immigrant passion among working-class voters while benefiting an ethnic group—Latinos—whose voter-participation levels remain anemic, even allowing for the restrictive election laws passed by Republicans.