This is a different kind of commentary on the recent election. The title is self explanatory. I thought about adding “in ten easy steps” but I didn’t want to obligate myself to come up with ten points by having to be redundant. In the current political climate of gridlock and polarization, failing to heed just half of one point might be enough for a significant reversal to occur. Here goes.
1. Failure to realize that the GOP won the House back, not because there are a majority of voters who share conservative political principles and were in love with the party, but because the voters fell out of love with the Democrats, and at the moment, voting for Republicans is the only other alternative. The fact of the matter is that the Republicans offered the only viable way to get the Obama administration and the Democrats to make changes. The Tea Party’s assault on incumbent Republicans, which was somewhat more successful than the ability of the candidates they backed to beat Democrats, essentially drove the nail into the coffin of the Bush Republican party. It is, as the media speculated back in 2008, dead. That’s why, even though there are relatively few Tea Partiers among the new crop of Republicans in Congress, they are able to make the moderate wing of the party quake in their boots with a stern warning that there will be dire consequences if it is business as usual. The margins of victory for GOP candidates in a plethora of the Congressional races on Tuesday was razor thin, in some cases, paper thin. The Tea Party may be small but in many cases, their support may mean the difference between winning and losing. Unless the Republicans think about the situation realistically, their exhuberance will last about two years.
2. Make the agenda about repealing health care and working to keep President Obama from winning a second term instead of the economy. There will be a lot of muttering and grumbling about this in the days to come because the talk radio pundits are already agitating for this to happen. That’s not the message that the voters sent. Hopefully, there will be some wiser heads that will prevail on this. One of the frustrations the voters had with the Democrats this time around, as evidenced by virtually every exit poll conducted, was the fact that they felt the Democrats were distracted by issues that were less important than fixing the economy. They consumed a lot of energy and time debating health care. Health care needs to be fixed, and few Americans dispute that, though there are a variety of opinions about how to do it. But most of the voters, between 65 and 70% in most polls, straight up said that the economy was the chief problem.
It is just a bit curious that the same polls which show overwhelming concern over the economy also show that most voters feel that President Bush and the banks were equally responsible for the economic crisis we’ve been in since the second year of his second term, yet they put his party back in control of the House. But a closer look reveals that a lot of Bush’s party are gone, and there’s a whole new breed of Republican among those heading for Washington, many for the first time, and there are more women and more minorities among them than ever before. There are high expectations, too high for the Republicans to go back to gridlock politics. The Democrats still control the Senate, and the President will be in the White House for at least two more years. If they want to continue to have a say in what happens, they’ll have to learn to get along, or the voters will put them out in 2012.
3. Go back to being the pre-2008 GOP. Laissez-Faire attitudes toward corporations and big business, turning a blind eye to corporate abuses, and taking a hands off policy toward the banks and big businesses, undoing Congressional oversight and regulation are all policies pursued by the GOP which led to the recession. Don’t try to fool the American people about that, they know, and part of the frustration they vented at the ballot box on Tuesday had to do with bailouts. Keeping in mind that it was Bush who initiated, and carried out the first bailout of banks and major corporations, a return to this policy by a Republican dominated House would be political suicide.
4. Continuing to be the party of “NO” without offering viable solutions and then being willing to compromise and work through the gridlock. Insisting on their own agenda, and not engaging in negotiation with Democrats will not win friends and influence people. Nor is it wise to ignore the opposition after a mid-term election that gives you a false sense of popularity. The number of people who voted on Tuesday fell far short of the numbers who turned out in 2008, which means that even though the GOP pulled down slightly more than 50% of the vote on Tuesday, that majority is about 40% smaller than the President’s vote total in 2008. Millions of Americans voted against the GOP on Tuesday. To coin phrases like “The American People said…” or “They need to do what the American people want to do…” is to ignore what almost half of the American people said, or what they want. And that could be a fatal mistake.
5. Don’t underestimate President Obama’s electability. There isn’t a poll that has been done in the past year that doesn’t show his ability to beat everyone on the GOP short list of potential presidential candidates. And while his job approval rating is hovering in the upper 40% range (which Bush would have sold his left leg to have) his personal popularity runs higher than that. Head to head, even Fox news has to admit that he’d beat Sarah Palin rather handily.
Not only that, but the election results on Tuesday give the President a distinct political advantage over the next two years. He’s got a highly visible place to pin the blame for whatever doesn’t transpire to please the electorate. Those “Republicans in Congress” can now be blamed for legislative and political failures, and you can bet that the President’s staff is loaded with public relations consultants who can take full advantage of every situation. If unemployment stays high, he can blame the House. If the economic situation improves, he’s in a position to take full credit for it. Any move the GOP makes which looks like an attempt to inhibit the President’s chances at re-election will be seen as playing politics, and that is clearly not what the voters want to see now.
I’ve even seen a few comments suggesting that a Republican controlled House should try an impeachment. Not a good idea. With the economy being the highest priority, a political move like that would be disastrous. With the Senate in Democratic hands, it would be a futile effort, seen as wasteful and politically motivated, and the end of GOP control of the House. The GOP is going to have to choose between working to help the American people recover from recession or trying to bring the President down. They can’t do both.
President Obama and the Democrats swept into office in 2008, running on a platform of “change.” The change didn’t happen quickly enough, and the voters reacted. The Republicans now have an excellent chance to become the party of change, and have great influence over what that will look like. Politics as usual will blow that chance, and it seems that, these days, the voters can turn things around quickly. In order to effect change, they are going to have to work with the other side of the aisle. That’s what the American people want to see. If they don’t the pendulum will swing back before there’s another major election.
In the meantime, I’ll wait and see.