Let's stipulate: The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision was an odious act of conservative judicial activism that overturned 100 years of legal precedent barring corporations — and, for the past 60 years, unions as well — from trying to buy elections.
[IMGCAP(1)]Let's stipulate further that the decision has unleashed a torrent of independent advertising — overwhelmingly negative and unedifying — with anti-Democratic ads outpacing anti-Republican by more than 2 to 1.
And, further, let's stipulate that the sources of the funding ought to be fully disclosed, as would have happened had Republicans not blocked legislation in the Senate that they say was skewed to help unions.
All that said, "secret money" is not — as President Barack Obama and many of his aides claim — the reason Democrats stand to get clobbered in next Tuesday's elections.
Nor is it "a failure to communicate," as the president, some White House aides and Democratic pollsters contend.
"We had to move so fast," Obama said last week in Seattle, listing the crises the country faced when he came to office. "We were in such emergency mode that it was very difficult for us to spend a lot of time doing victory laps and advertising exactly what we were doing, because we had to move on to the next thing."
After White House political adviser David Axelrod made that argument in a Roll Call interview last Tuesday, Senate Republicans passed out stats compiled by CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller for Obama's 2009: 42 news conferences, 158 interviews (including five Sunday talk shows in one day), 23 town hall meetings and seven campaign rallies.
As to money, the New York Times reported Wednesday that, actually, in the 109 most contested House races, Democratic candidates have outspent Republicans, $119 million to $79 million.
While the Center for Responsive Politics reported that pro-Republican independent groups have outspent pro-Democratic groups $177.2 million to $83.1 million so far, it turns out that the biggest outside spender is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, at $91 million, according to the New York Times.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is second at $75 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Karl Rove's group, American Crossroads, is third at $65 million.
But the Service Employees International Union is fourth at $44 million and the National Education Association is fifth, at $40 million.
Let's stipulate again, corporations ought not be spending stockholders' money on campaigns — as Congress first decreed in 1907 — and unions shouldn't spend member dues, as Congress ruled in 1947.
Contrary to the opinions of the five conservatives on the Court, corporations and unions are not "persons" entitled to First Amendment rights. The law allows individuals at unions and companies to band together in political action committees to "speak" politically.
That said, all pro-Republican and pro-Democratic spending will basically balance out. It's so enormous that it's merely making the rubble bounce — and so negative it's making voters even more disgusted with politics and politicians.
So if it's not money and it's not "messaging" that has Democrats in a deep hole, what is it?
At a forum on health care reform's role in the campaign, Republican pollster Whit Ayres said, "this election is a rejection of Democratic governance, just like 2006 and 2008 were a rejection of Republican governance.
"Independents are particularly upset. It's not just health care. It's the auto bailout. It's the stimulus bill. It's the $1.3 trillion deficit ... The problem is not marketing. It is what [the Democrats] did. It's taking the country in a direction people didn't want it to go."
At the same event, sponsored by the journal Health Affairs, even Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said the Obama administration and Congress seemed to get "diverted from the public's No. 1 concern, the economy," to health care.
"They made the big mistake in 2009 of thinking that the stimulus was going to bring back the economy. They didn't appreciate how difficult it would be. People thought the stimulus was just a one-shot and not a strategy."
The new Associated Press/Roper poll shows that, among likely voters, only 41 percent approve of Obama's handling of unemployment and only 33 percent think that his stimulus program improved the economy.
So how bad will it be? Personally, I'd like to see a result that was seen as a rebuke to the tea party right — and, indeed, "regular" Republicans such as Rep. Roy Blunt in Missouri, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Rob Portman in Ohio doing far better than tea party favorites Ken Buck in Colorado, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Joe Miller in Alaska.
But if the average, generic Republican lead in House races is 7 points and if Real Clear Politics is correct in forecasting a GOP pickup of perhaps 62 seats, the national wave likely will bring in all Republicans in close races, conceivably producing even a Republican Senate.
Then the question becomes: can anything get done in the next two years? The AP poll asked voters how they feel about politics. Fifty-eight percent are "disgusted." Seventy-seven percent are "disappointed." Seventy-nine percent "frustrated." But a surprising 65 percent are "hopeful."
Whoever gets elected had better resolve not to dash those hopes.