If the election of President Barack Obama was the final collapse of the administration of President George W. Bush, what can be made of the sudden and shocking triumph of a Republican in heavily liberal Massachusetts less than a month after he trailed by 30 points in the most reliable polls? Keep in mind that according to supposedly objective journalists like E.J. Dionne, the Republican Party died in 2006 and, along with it, conservatism. (This was not news from Dionne, of course; in 1997, he wrote a book declaring that progressives would dominate the next era). In fact, the influx of new immigrants ensured without a doubt that the Reagan Era was a relic of history and socialism had become the new governing philosophy. The GOP was such a dead brand that an aide to Al Gore's campaign wrote a book about the Reagan Era and dated it 1974-2008. It is thus nothing short of amusing to see that the supposedly dead corpse has apparently kicked up the dust and knocked the stone off the top of the grave site. Democrats could do whatever they wanted as far as they eye could see.
Only as of yesterday they are asking in incredulous tones, "What happened?" And buried softly beneath that shocked question is, "And how much worse will it get?" For Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts is a bigger national wake-up call than Harris Wofford stunning Dick Thornburgh in 1991 (the supposed prelude to Clinton's 1992 victory) or Barack Obama winning congenitally (in the Presidential race) Republican Virginia in 2008. But if a hard-core conservative can pull a stunning mandate in arguably the most liberal state in the Union, what might be true of the year ahead?
The answer is, "Just wait and see." For what lies ahead in all probability is an electoral disaster for the folks in charge, namely, the Democrats.
I still remember November 2008. Although I didn't vote for Obama (or McCain, either, for that matter), I liked the guy personally, and I hoped his transparency promise was true. But as the pundits, bloggers, and MSM were declaring the death of the Republican Party, I made an ominous prediction that - at the time to many people - seemed hilariously inept. My prediction was simple. If the GOP did absolutely NOTHING right in 2009 or 2010, I noted they would still win at least 15 Congressional seats back. A few of my moderate Democratic friends admitted that was likely, but it was lost in the chorus of back-slapping and wine toasting that accompanied the liberal takeover of the government. One of my friends, a journalist who is usually politically astute, seemed to think that Sarah Palin had inflicted a mortal wound on the GOP. He didn't seem to listen when I told him it was simple: the Democrats were now to blame for everything that did (or didn't) happen. And that's not the spot you want to be in during the worst economic Depression in 75 years.
The Democrats of 2009 badly misread their mandate. This is not unusual. The Republicans of 1995 and Democrats of 1993 did the exact same thing. The current mistake had its genesis in the results of the 2006 elections, where the Democrats ran a campaign based largely on attacks of George W. Bush and made only three promises: to lower gas prices, to fix illegal immigration, and to end the war in Iraq. Amazingly enough, they went 0 for 3 on those issues and managed to increase their margins in both houses. As a consequence of that success, the Democrats somehow bought the notion that they were now made of Teflon. But they seemed to forget that once your in charge of the entire government, you have constituents to which you must answer. And let's face it: the voters DID NOT send the Democratic Party to Washington to spend every dime on the planet for the next twenty years. Period.
The Democrats, however, somehow came to the conclusion that that is EXACTLY what the American people wanted. Or did they? Even the Democrats know that isn't true or they wouldn't have intentionally railroaded the pork package through without giving people a chance to read it. If you're honest about your intentions, why would you do that? But for all of the accusations for years about George W. Bush's 'lying,' Nancy Pelosi has made the colossal mistake of thinking voters want Big Government ruling over them. After all, they voted in a filibuster-proof Senate and huge majority Congress, didn't they? Yes, Nancy, they did. But you overlooked WHY that was. It isn't because the Democrats did a spectacular job in their 2006 campaigns. It isn't because they wanted you as Speaker of the House. It's because - quite simply - the public saw the Republican Party as hopelessly corrupt and not living up their announced conservative principles due to their deficit spending habits - and the public cashiered them all the while holding the collective nose. It should be noted that the disapproval rating of Republicans in Congress at that time was only one point higher than the disapproval rate of Democrats (per CNN). And now comes the hard part for the Dems - how do you blame Republicans without your nose growing at the same time?
The word 'arrogant' has been affixed to the Democrats, and that is not a word that is easy to rid one's self of politically. Once the word 'arrogant' is applied to you, it is pretty much the end of your effectiveness. It happened to the Democrats in 1994, Newt Gingrich just a year later, and George W. Bush in 2005. Although at this point Obama has escaped the label, the musings of what to do about health care - and more importantly what is actually done - might well be the difference in his re-election or defeat in 2012. How did the word 'arrogant' become applied?
Well first off, Obama ran a mostly positive campaign and came to office promising transparency. This rather self-serving claim was rusted by the slick way the Democratic Congress fired through a 'stimulus package' (actually a political payoff to core constituencies) that made the Reagan Presidency look fiscally responsible. Most of the good will with the American people was used up in that one slick act. If Obama had not entered office as a candidate with a 53% 'mandate' and heavy Democratic majorities in both houses, he would not have survived with his popularity in tact as long as he did. Obama then hurt himself by pre-judging an altercation between a friend of his and policeman that resulted in a 'beer summit.' The problems from that political misjudgment, however, continue because Obama did the one thing he could not afford to do: fail to judge a situation soberly (if you'll pardon the pun). And then the debacle known as health care, which has taken up most of the last eight months or so, revealed 'Chicago-style politics' consisting of big payoffs for votes that the public knew. In the Clinton days, this would have been laughed at. Why? Because times were good for most people. In a time when foreclosures are at an all-time American peak, dishing out more public monies to wealthy Senators to get their votes is a politically stupid idea. The larger question is the one, however, that begs to be asked: Was Scott Brown's election a referendum on health care? Was it a referendum on Obama?
I think what happened this past Tuesday is the simple reaction of American politics against itself in an effort to find a 'stable center.' It is generally conceded by virtually all informed persons that America has been defined ever since the days of Nixon as a 'center right' country. This is simply another way of saying that voters want government help in areas like Social Security and Medicare and Education and a strong national defense but otherwise want decisions such as abortion, gay rights, and guns left to individuals as long as public safety is not a paramount issue. Although the political wing at MSNBC interpreted the 2008 elections as a repudiation of conservatism and the Republican Party (witness Keith Olbermann's arrogant rips that the Republicans should remember they are 'the minority party'), the simple fact of the matter is that neither Obama nor McCain scared the electorate to the point that they feared a Goldwater or McGovern presidency. Consequently, they chose what they deemed the lesser of two evils.
OR AS LEE CORSO WOULD SAY...
That said, while the current climate favors Republican gains in both houses, the GOP had better not think the voice of the nation was an aberration, either. The American populace is sick and tired of politicians who lie to their faces and then pretend it never happened. The Republicans have a good offer to make to the public if their professed fiscal conservatism is truly their goal. And Obama has actually made their appearance of success even easier than it would have been. Think about it: the deficit is AUTOMATICALLY going to go down in the next few years because of the lack of spending a trillion bucks in stimulus money. Even a $650 billion deficit can be sold to the public as 'heading in the right direction,' and the GOP, no doubt, will claim their policies caused it. Of course, they'd better realize that also means the re-election of President Obama.
The smart money does not say, "Conservatism wins in Massachusetts." The smart money would say that the voters are mad as hell and taking it out on the party in power. Any other interpretation is probably reading too much into the tea leaves. That said, however, I need to make two main points.
1) The Democrats had better realize that running against George W. Bush is as far in the past as the Civil War (metaphorically speaking). This is the third time in less than a year the Democrats have tried to run against Bush, and they're 0 for 3. It's time to call something besides an off tackle run to the left side. That's because the general population never 'hated' George Bush as badly as the Democrats did for eight years. They DISAPPROVED of the job he did from 2006 on, but they didn't 'hate' the man. One would think the Dems would have learned this from how badly the Republicans hated Bill Clinton when he had a 70% approval rating, but - and this goes back to arrogance - they apparently think political gravity is only a reality for the GOP.
2) The Democrats are also sorely mistaken if they think the Supreme Court ruling on corporate donations is going to help them this time around. Who, after all, gave the banks multiplied billions of dollars that were paid out in severance bonuses? How can any Democrat who voted FOR that bailout have the chutzpah to say he's against those folks and that they're in the Republicans' back pocket? If I were a GOP candidate and a Democrat pulled that against me, I'd immediately hit him with the hypocrisy charge. Financed, of course, by a large corporation. And point out that the labor unions gave my opponent 'x' dollars in the same type thing.
HOW TO OVERCOME THE PENDING DISASTER
The Democrats are not, however, completely without hope of winning. It is impossible in the current climate for them to advance their numbers; it simply won't happen. But the GOP is in the midst of a Billy 'White Shoes' Johnson touchdown dance in the second quarter of a long game. If I were a Democratic strategist, here's the way to minimize the losses. (And it can be done, too. Just months after President GHW Bush broke his 'no new taxes' pledge, the GOP managed to lose only eight seats in the House despite polls showing 30 incumbents on the precipice of retirement).
First - drop health care. Period. Do not mention it. Simply promise to take it up later. The union clowns like Ed Schultz might complain, but seriously, where do you think he's going to go? He has no choice, and they have no choice. Drop it. Nobody will remember it eight months from now.
Second - talk up the need of a strong military presence in Afghanistan. Keep the focus on the 'good war' as much as possible. Indicate the Iraq War will soon be over (whether it really will or not is a separate question) and that peace is near.
Third - fire a Cabinet officer the first chance you get. It shows leadership and that there is actually more than just an empty suit making speeches. My suggestion? Janet Napolitano. It won't be long before she screws up again.
Fourth - tout any sign of recovery you can find as good news. OK, so they all do this, but the flashy optimism will keep your popularity in reserve for a time when you can cash it in.
Fifth - drop the social issues. They may be winners in the big states, but they're losers for your Congresspersons in Texas, Florida, the South and the Great Plains. Nary a word about abortion, gay rights, or gun control. Again - what are they gonna do, go vote Republican? The gay rights issue is a particular loser for Obama, and he needs to drop it as quickly as health care.
There are other things, but these would make a great start. They might well be the difference between Speaker Pelosi and Speaker Boehner. One more thing, Congress: you need a new Speaker in 2011.