I would like to believe Walter Russell Mead's basic point that Big Government-style programs that ensured Democratic popularity in the 1930s won't work today, but I have my doubts. Mead writes that Democrats, without ending the Depression, made gains in the midterm elections of 1934 while Democrats are poised to lose seats in 2010. Fair enough, but the analogy is problematic. I think that the best metric for understanding the differences between 1934 and 2010 is the state of the economy. Mead is right that FDR's policies had not ended the Depression by 1934, but the economy had perceptibly improved. GDP was growing at over 10% in 1934 and the unemployment rate had fallen over 3% in the last year. We can argue to what extent FDR's policies were responsible for the growth and the future implication for policy, but he clearly benefited politically.
By comparison, the unemployment rate is now stuck almost 2% higher than when Obama took over and GDP growth is weak. Obama is obviously paying the political price, but his popularity isn't that bad considering the circumstances. Can you imagine the job approval of a President McCain under the same circumstances? It won't take much of an improvement in economic conditions for Obama to be marginally popular again. That doesn't mean he is destined to win reelection, just that, depending on economic conditions (and the results of Obama's fights with the forthcoming Republican House of Representatives and maybe Senate), the politics of 2012 might partly point away from the politics of 2010. And even a narrow Obama reelection might result in the entrenchment of Big Government-style political changes that Mead thinks are on the way out.