By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
President Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats have fallen flat on their face, a victim of their own arrogance. Believing their own press clippings, the Democrats misinterpreted the 2008 election as a realigning mandate in support of fundamental, major changes in the way America is governed as well as an endorsement of the need to grow substantially the size and scope of government. In point of fact it was neither of those things. The 2008 platform on which they ran was long on slogans and concepts and short on actual ideas for governing.
It is true that America voted for change--but not the change that Obama and the Democrats began to offer once elected.
Their failure to understand this has led to stunning political defeats. What made these reversals even more amazing, however, is that they occurred during a period in which the Republicans were at a severe political disadvantage. Control of the White House coupled with a substantial majority in the House and an absolute majority of 60 votes in the Senate should have resulted in a flood of new laws and regulations fulfilling every promise and Democratic dream that had been held in check since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Indeed, with the introduction of a pork-laden stimulus bill that passed through Congress easily, it looked like that was the way things were headed. Instead the Democrats, time and again on key issues, came up short.
Voting for Obama allowed far too many people--especially self-described independents--to "exorcise their demons," to vent their frustration at the Bush administration. It was cathartic, but not the kind of action on which a transformational political movement can be built.
In an effort to recover the ground they have lost over the last 12 months, the Democrats have announced they will pivot, talking from this point forward about jobs, jobs, and jobs and, in an embrace of a populist agenda that would make William Jennings Bryan smile, taking on anything big--big banks, big oil, big insurance, big medicine--in order to protect the interests of the working man and woman. It's a workable strategy, one that helped keep the Democrats in power in Congress for close to 40 years that touches on perceptions, popularly endorsed, of the economic inequities that exist in America. But this will succeed only if the Republicans agree to play ball.
In the short run, the Republicans must resist the temptation to be positioned in a way that makes it appear they are defending the very real inequities and public concerns that Obama and the Democrats are attacking. In the long run, they must develop a platform that allows them to communicate to the American electorate that they are listening to what the people are saying and is solution-oriented. They must give the people the opportunity to vote for the change they want, not just change for change's sake.
It would be damaging to the party's fortunes if the GOP reads the election results in Virginia, New Jersey, and, now, Massachusetts in the same hubristic manner with which the Democrats embraced the results in 2008. The Republican victories in these three key races were the result of superior candidates combined with a general level of discomfort among the electorate with the way things are going in Washington. It created a "perfect storm" that is now working to the GOP's advantage but may be fleeting. Despite what the poll numbers indicate, the voters are not sold on the Republicans as Republicans, but only as a viable, even preferred alternative to the Democrats now in power. In order to regain the majority, it is not only sufficient but necessary for the Republicans to eschew the "party of no" label in favor of what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at one time called "an agenda worth voting for."