The Lessons of the Mid-Terms
I had the luck of being abroad this week so I had some time to collect my thoughts, avoiding the typical knee-jerk punditry I usually do, thanks to timezone differences with those calling me from the U.S. east coast and absurdly high roaming rates. (I haven’t paid $0.99/min for a call since I was 13 and convinced myself trying out 1-900 numbers would be a fun thing to do.)
As the election neared, friends, mainly of the conservative ilk, asked me what I thought was going to happen. Luckily, I hadn’t budged from my predictions posted here. Fair enough, the official unemployment rate in October was 9.6% and not 10% and the Dem’s lost the House so I didn’t quite nail the spread, but, overall, for a 6-month out prediction I think I fared pretty well. Certainly better than those who predicted a 100 seat win.
So, what the hell happened?
1. Unemployment matters. And the technical unemployment number has about as much to do with the real misery, pain, and fear going out there as does the formal designation of the close of a recession, which, by the way, economists told us was months ago. Feel better yet?
2. Congress missed a window. The House or Senate, mainly the latter, should have taken action on any number of items that could have made a difference between a 60 seat shellacking, to use the President’s descriptor, and a 50 or 45 seat bruising. DADT, Immigration Reform, keeping the middle-class portion of the Bush tax cuts; any or several of them, even better, would have reminded Dem or Dem-leaning voters why they voted for a Democratic Congress and White House in the first place. Instead, 29 million of Obama’s 2008 supporters simply stayed home. It’s not rocket science why. Yes, HCR was a significant improvement, but in today’s 24 hour news cycle, it’s what you did for me lately, not what you did for me last year that will take affect in 2014 provided certain conditions are met and implementation is handled correctly. The GOP is exceedingly skillful at manipulating the Congressional calendar for this (think back to the 2002 pre-election vote on the Iraq war authorization for one example) while the Democratic party seems only to use the calendar as an excuse for inaction.
3. Seats that are a reach will always be vulnerable. Fact is there were a solid 15 seats in Democratic hands that, given decent opposition and headwinds against them, wouldn’t be. Between 2006 and 2008, the party was effective at candidate recruitment in many districts that were not only GOP-leaning, but were double-digit McCain districts. It’s either naivete or political malpractice to think you’re going to keep those by dint of incumbency. So, those seats returned to their natural position on the spectrum. Almost all of them.
4. Tea Party is a mixed bag for the GOP. In the Senate races, not to mention several gubernatorial, the Tea Party-endorsed or supported candidate turned out to be an absolute disaster. Here’s the deal, GOP: You lost the Senate because of Tea Party candidates.
– Christine O’Donnell: You had the seat. Done. Signed, sealed, delivered. You primaried a gimme and ended up with a wholly unqualified candidate in a cycle that seemed to make that, in and of itself, a premiere qualification for office. Luckily, the Democrats didn’t put up a sacrificial lamb and, voila, one seat saved.
– Sharon Angle: Underestimate Reid at your own peril. Here, again, you had the seat. You could have nominated any one of several electable candidates, but, instead, went with a parochial candidate in a year when having power (and, yes, pork — get over it), mattered. Reid managed to climb out of incredible unfavorables to beat you because of it. Congrats. Another seat saved.
– Carlie Fiorina: No, not really a Tea Partier per se, but she certainly liked to play one on TV. This was the worst kind of “Tea Party” candidate, in my opinion. Not one who’s nuttiness and blatant anti-intellectualism made her a match for many Tea Party supporters, but one who came to it out of sheer opportunism. (Tea Party folks: Seriously, a former CEO who nearly crashed an American technology icon with tens of thousands of jobs outsourced in the process is your ideal candidate? Better check yourself before you wreck yourself.) Again, in the light of day, wasn’t a match for Boxer. Seat saved.
– Linda McMahon: This was a double strike for the GOP’s extreme elements. In the primary, you had a candidate who served in the Vietnam war. The party’s base goes for a multi-millionnaire founder of a wrestling league instead. The Democratic party switches out Dodd for Blumenthal, who, it turns out, wasn’t always absolutely clear about how he served during the Vietnam era. Hmmm: Maybe you should have rethought that nomination. Millions of dollars spent. Seat saved.
And that’s 4. Swing Lieberman your way and there you go. You have a majority.
In the House, though, I would submit it’s a different picture. For all the problems I have with the Tea Party, the participation of its supporters in the GOP nominating process has resulted in some, emphasis on some, legitimately fresh blood in the Congress. Some of their candidates come from truly different backgrounds than those who preceded them, Democrat or Republican, and will shake things up. The only question I have for all of them is this: Campaigning on overthrowing the system is one thing; what you do to actualize that when you get in office without burning the place down is another. It will be a tougher decision for many of these newly elected Representatives, and the GOP House leadership, to figure out than they think.
5. Can’t undo in 2 years what it took 50 to create: This nation faces many mammoth challenges. The American people displayed a stunning willingness to fall for a 6 minute workout-style ploy, supported by major financial interests in many cases (thank you SCOTUS and Citizens United) that have anything but the average American’s best interests in mind. No, you can’t eat what you want and lose weight. Losing weight takes time, lots of it. America needs to get on a diet. Pick your challenge: From the deficit, to foreign wars, to entitlements, to infrastructure, to education. Everyone of us is going to have to sacrifice to return this country to greatness. To those who felt voting the opposite direction universally from the way they voted the last election was somehow going to speed this process, please think of any great change in your life. Whether it was finding your way to a faith or overcoming addiction, none of those transformations happened overnight or without sacrifice.
6. The message matters, but so does fighting for it. The President needs to understand it’s one thing to legislate the right way, it’s another to explain to the American people, every waking minute if need be, why that legislation matters to them and matters now. That’s fighting for it. That’s calling out the opposition for obstructing it. That’s throwing down the gauntlet.
Real Washington isn’t Hollywood, but it seemed right to draw inspiration from it for the purposes of explaining exactly what this President needs to do. He needs an “American President” moment. This moment:
I believe this President can and will rise to the challenge. I ask him to do it soon. I ask him to make clear to the new House that he welcomes their input, as he has, but that there are certain things, such as repealing HCR, that will be DOA and will be vetoed. Pushing these priorities will, therefore, be a waste of the House’s time and, more importantly, that of the American people.