As Republicans plan their legislative agenda for next year, they should consider an important truth: anger and frustration are not the same as a mandate.
The GOP’s commanding wins in last month’s midterms might understandably give the new House majority and strengthened Senate minority the idea that the American public has rejected anything and everything President Obama and the Democrats have done, tried to do, or think about doing. But a recent poll in the Washington Post suggests that the country may have wanted to shake things up, not blow things up.
Unlike in previous midterm election polls, Obama still rates reasonably well (with 49 percent of those polled approving of the president, and 47 percent disapproving). And despite what Obama rightly called a shellacking last month, the president is still trusted more than Republicans (43 percent to 38 percent) to handle the problems the country is facing. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
This doesn’t mean Americans were thrilled with what Democrats were doing when they held majorities in both chambers of Congress along with the White House. But it also doesn’t mean they want Republicans to set about undoing everything the Democrats did. That includes healthcare overhaul; Obama scored above the GOP (51 percent to 38 percent) in voter trust to handle the issue.
Polls, of course, should not singularly drive the agenda on Capitol Hill. In fact, true leadership sometimes requires that politicians do unpopular things. But the Washington Post survey is worth attention from Congress, since it reflects a different kind of mandate from the public that is less about ideology than pure frustration. [See a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
Americans are mad; they’re recession-weary, and they’re facing a time when so many problems that have been shunted aside for years or even decades--the cost of healthcare, debt, deficit spending, an unsustainable housing boom and its associated hyper-consumerism--cannot be ignored any longer. Congress, including the new Republican House majority leadership, has a wrenching series of decisions to make in the next two years. Americans didn’t send more Republicans to Congress to keep fighting with Democrats and to position themselves for the next election; they sent them there in the hopes that the two parties would finally work together to address critical national problems. Perhaps this will be the Congress that achieves that.