Things are looking awfully dismal for the Democrats, who--despite an uptick in some polls and fundraising--appear poised to lose control of the House. If there is an enormous wave and low Democratic turnout, it’s conceivable the GOP will take back the Senate, too. But as dispiriting as that may be for the Democratic policy agenda, it could be the best thing to happen to the Democrats politically.
It would be a mistake to read the GOP trends this election season as purely ideologically driven, or even primarily so. The coming changes in Congress will be driven by anger, without a cohesive political philosophy or even a solid policy vision behind it. The disgust with government is real, it is deep, and it is aimed at both parties. As the people in charge, Democrats will bear the far heavier brunt of that anger.
But no matter who takes charge of the House and Senate in the 112th Congress, the sad reality is that the result, for Americans, is likely to be same: continued inaction, as both parties remain engaged in a mutually assured destruction mode. Both will look ahead to the next election. Republicans won’t be eager to hand President Obama policy victories, since it would buttress his re-election campaign and annoy the hard-right faction of the GOP. Democrats aren’t going to cave to the GOP on tax policy and other matters; doing so would further aggravate the left, which already is angry that Obama was unable to accomplish its unrealistic agenda in two years. The GOP’s biggest item appears to be repealing the healthcare reform law--an idea that would surely cement the anti-government anger of what is now the most active part of the Republican Party. But it won’t go anywhere. Democrats would filibuster it in the Senate, and even if it were to pass, Obama would surely veto it. And it’s likely that veteran members of the GOP know that and are counting on it. As unpopular as the healthcare law is among some groups, the Democrats cleverly front-loaded the implementation of the law with popular items, such as allowing parents to keep their kids on their healthcare plans until they are 26. Republicans don’t like what they see as government intervention in healthcare, but they know better that to reverse such policies as banning insurance companies from refusing to cover kids with “pre-existing conditions.”
Policy-wise, that may be enough for Republicans, who want to stymie Obama’s agenda. But the GOP would then own the inaction, and be blamed for it in 2012 when an ever angrier American public goes to the polls. Democrats aren’t likely to get much of substance approved in the next two years even if they do hold onto their House and Senate majorities. But as the minority party, even in one House, they can at least shift the blame.
Democrats are fretting over the changes to come next week, and Republicans are gleeful. But the changes will be more about party titles than policy. Americans should be depressed.