It seems as good a time as any to reflect briefly on the recent election and the myths that have developed as to the reasons for the Democrats’ “shellacking”.
Among Democrats of the liberal variety, I’m seeing all too many who fault the President and Democrats for not going far enough: there should have been a larger stimulus; we shouldn’t have compromised on health care; and “cap and trade” was the right thing to do. And yes, Nancy Pelosi was brilliant and did nothing wrong.
I personally believe that the public was never overwhelmingly against any of these three major Democratic initiatives. With the exception of cap and trade, which was always in my opinion the coward’s way out and not the best means to address climate change, the other two initiatives were necessary. However, both of these necessary initiatives, stimulus and health care reform, were very poorly executed and that poor execution left a sour taste with people – a sour taste that was remembered on election day. The public was simply exhausted and disgusted by the never-ending debate of a health care bill where no one, least not the President, seemed in charge. As for the stimulus, I think people remembered how blatantly the Democratic congressional leadership administered favors to political constituencies rather than just executing a bill that got the biggest bang for the buck.
More simply put, the process destroyed the products. Yet my fundamental point is that the electorate’s massive negative reaction in just-concluded election was not about any one of the above things. It was, however, about a cumulative impression of one-party dominated processes that involved some really ugly sausage making. That in turn left a cumulative impression with much of the electorate that the country was left with legislation that nobody understood, cost a whole lot of money, and massively increased the role of government in our lives. And, perhaps most importantly, the economy still sucked.
In the midst of gigantic collective anxiety about the economy, the perception of a massive government expansion as being the cure for what ailed the country did not work. In fact it raised the reddest of flags to an insecure nation, an insecure “center-right” nation.
So what it appears that Democrats intend to do to remedy things in the next Congress is to entrust the party’s message going forward to none other than the folks who so badly bungled things in the last two years: Obama, Pelosi and Reed. I think this a huge mistake for Democrats. A softer and more “centrist” face would be much more effective in opposing the almost certain Republican-dominated policy folly that’s coming — that folly being the ultra conservative notion that by shrinking the government and lowering taxes we can solve all of the country’s problems. We can’t. Yet with the Democrat’s proposed messengers, the debate will polarize into “More Government” versus “No Government”. This is so unnecessary. While I see no signs that Republicans will amend their “no government message, the Democrats can still alter their message, but they will need new messengers in the both the House and Senate to accomplish this.
I can only hope Democrats in Congress will yet decide that new leadership is required in the next Congress. Let Democrats lose the fallacious belief that party hasn’t been liberal enough. The party needs to recognize that America isn’t ready for a European-style social democracy. So go ahead and pursue “liberal” policies – that is the essence of the Democratic Party — but do so incrementally. And for now, occupy the center ground that’s been abandoned by the Republicans.
In closing let me observe that while each party is right to try to move the country in the direction it thinks the country should go, the problem arises when either party becomes too impatient and wants to change the status quo overnight. American’s don’t like radical change and will resist what they perceive efforts to legislate such radical change (the November elections). The solution is a slow but steady movement firmly rooted in the “center” ground. I’m convinced it would be a winning strategy for any party that chooses to adopt it. Given that Republicans appear to believe that they now have a mandate for radical change, the obvious path for Democrats is to learn from the last two years and adopt a more moderate path – a path that recognizes its priorities but also one that can resonate with a centrist America.