Bad News, Good News
Copyright © 2010 by Stephen W. Potts. All rights reserved.
It was a typical Halloween horror show along the lines of 28 Days Later. Society was crumbling, while mobs infected with a rage virus stormed through the streets, attacking the few remaining human beings who had not been infected. This was not Halloween, however; it was the year and a half leading up to Election Day, 2010. And the raging mobs consisted mostly of middle-aged folks wearing Revolutionary War outfits and hats strung with tea bags and carrying poorly spelled signs.
Plenty of reasons have been offered for the big losses suffered by the Democrats in the House of Representatives on November 2. The second guessing began months ago and will continue into next year. Republicans, of course, want to spin this as a resounding rejection of Obama and the Democratic agenda, a rejection of such radical liberal causes as making health care available, making Wall Street responsible, and spending government money on infrastructure. Others, most Democrats included, see the about face of the electorate in the Heartland as a response to continued tough economic times.
Ultimately, whichever explanation succeeds will be the result of a national Hula Hoop contest: whoever can spin the longest wins.
Off the record, there are those who simply think a lot of voters are just stupid. To be charitable, they may merely be short-sighted. The swing voters of this election, like the swing voters of 2008, don’t have any particular ideological bias. They voted for Obama and the Democrats then because they were voting against George W. Bush. They voted Republican this time because the Democrats have not reversed all the damage done by George W. Bush. The banks are still foreclosing on their homes; the jobs that got exported overseas have not come back.
The fact that the banks and the job exporters are also mostly Republican passes them by; the fact that the economy is working precisely as Reaganomics intends it to work — the rich and powerful getting richer and more powerful, the rest of us increasingly in hock to the company store — eludes them. After all, they voted for Reagan too. Preyed upon by brain-eating zombies, they have given up on the Ghostbusters and elected brain-eating zombies to protect them.
But if it looks like a black night ahead to many of the survivors, there are some bright points of light in that dark, gloomy sky.
First of all, the Republicans blew their chances of taking the Senate with a few too many bad candidates, especially Sarah Palin clones Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada. While the Democrats lost a handful of seats in that body, they still hold a greater majority than the Republicans did throughout W.’s two terms. Considering that they couldn’t do much with 59, let alone 60, the 53 they presumably have in their caucus now puts them in much the same place. After his victory over Sharron Angle, former boxer (believe it or not) Harry Reid came out crowing and swinging. One can only hope that he feels somewhat more courageous now that he does not have an election immediately ahead of him and that he is willing to make some changes in the Senate rules that will actually allow his majority to get some work done. One will not hold one’s breath, however.
Second, Democrats are even more firmly in charge on the blue Pacific and in the northeast. On the Left Coast, California has a complete slate of Democratic officials (the undecided Attorney General election possibly excepted) and an opportunity, with the passage of state Proposition 25, to pass a budget with a simple majority vote of the Democratically controlled legislature, reversing for the first time a provision of 1978’s unlucky Proposition 13. Years of Republican brinksmanship, in which they stalled the state budget for weeks beyond its annual deadline as they held out for concessions, finally left voters fed up with the process.
Californians also voted down Proposition 23, an attempt by Texas oil concerns to overturn a green energy initiative backed by none other than Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger has been justifiabley lampooned on this site, but this was one of three things he has done in the past year that lifted him above the cesspool of contemporary Republicanism. Besides the law to cap greenhouse gases, he refused to challenge a court decision that stayed elements of Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage act passed in 2008. And he signed a law that would create a health insurance exchange in California in 2011, a provision of the national health care bill that won’t kick in until later. No wonder grass roots Republicans are no longer lobbying to change the Constitution to allow foreign-born politicans to run for president. The Governator will leave office with an approval rating of 23%, his worse showing since playing Dr. Freeze in Batman 4.
California’s new governor, Jerry Brown the Sequel, will have the opportunity to show how a solidly Democratic administration can address the sort of mutually exacerbating problems nearly all states, including the United States, are facing now — budget deficits, joblessness, crumbling infrastructure, social needs.
Although characteristically characterized by his opponents as just another big-spending liberal, Brown was the last California governor to create a budget surplus, before Prop. 13 made that impossible. No telling what he will do now; he is notoriously unpredictable. At least he showed how to beat a business Republican, Meg Whitman, who spent $150 million of her own money to purchase the office. The fact that she failed, like her GOP colleague Carly Fiorina, who likewise spent a personal fortune to defeat Senator Barbara Boxer, demonstrates the heartening message that money alone can’t buy a politician love.
Outside of California, the best news may have come from Colorado, where John Hickenlooper, former Denver mayor, handily beat former GOP congressman, failed presidential candidate, and wingnut extraordinaire Tom Tancredo to become governor. Tancredo was running as an independent after the Republican/Tea Party choice Ron Maez, turned out to be a certifiable idiot — a trope repeated in the Cuomo-Paladino race in New York. In a closer Colorado race, Democrat Michael Bennet, appointed to the Senate to fill Ken Salazar’s seat, beat Tea Partier Ken Buck.
A couple of months ago, Colorado had been seen as a bellwether — a state that had only recently swung from sagebrush Republican to Democratic and that would surely swing back in this year designed for Democratic defeats. Didn’t happen. Colorado, like California, now has Democrats controlling the statehouse, the legislature, and both senatorial seats.
So 2010 was bad news for Democrats, but it wasn’t a sweep. On the Saturday before the election, Weekly Standard editor Matthew Continetti gleefully informed NPR host Scott Simon that every time the House of Representatives had changed hands, so had the Senate. Didn’t happen.
The GOP won only the House, although they are talking as though they have won the whole government. Yes, that is one whole house of Congress — and yes, it is the one that initiates the budget process.
But Republican noisemakers like Michelle Bachman of Minnesota and Darrell Issa of California are calling for investigations of the Obama administration, probably with an eye to impeachment, since that worked so well in 1999. And John Boehner has declared that the GOP agenda for the next two years will be to cut taxes and spending and to repeal health care.
Meanwhile Mitch McConnell, still Minority Leader in the Senate, has declared that the primary effort of his party will be to make sure nothing in the economy improves — to assure the President’s defeat in 2012.
Both men are now pressuring Haley Barber, Mississippi governor and head of the Republican governors, to “support the will of the American people” and help depose Barack Obama.
Yes, the next couple of years will be mostly a depressing waste of time and taxpayer money, as the Obama adminstration gets locked in a death grip with the worst crop of Republicans we have seen since the McCarthy era. But really, with the Senate still firmly in Democratic hands, and the President still President, they have plenty of time and power, should they wish to exercise it, to fight back.
And it is the amount of fight they feel that worries many grassroots Democrats. There is evidence that in those swing districts in the Rust Belt where conservative Democrats lost to Republicans, many Democratic voters wanted their representatives to support the administration’s initiatives instead of voting against them. The shattered remains of the Blue Dog caucus want Speaker Nancy Pelosi to leave Democratic leadership when Congress changes over. Her crime, of course, was being the most effective congressional leader the Democrats have had in recent memory, for which (of course) she was demonized effectively by the GOP and the wingnut noise machine. She seems to be hanging tough after having re-won her seat with the highest percentage of any returning Representative: 80%.
Meanwhile, Obama continues to signal his desire to compromise with the Republicans, so nothing has changed there. Since they have declared their agenda to destroy him, one wonders what he will offer to meet them halfway.
In addition, the agenda propounded by John Boehner and his posse is literally impossible to achieve on their own. Once again, they have rolled out the old rotten chestnut of simultaneously cutting taxes and deficits, showing that today’s GOP is as bad at math as they are at science — it is mathematically impossible to cut taxes and deficits at the same time. The obvious example is the perpetuation of the Bush deficits that, along with the spending on the Iraq and Afghan wars, turned the surplus of 2000 into $1.8 trillion in deficits. The GOP criticizes the $700 billion added to that in bail-outs and stimulus by the Obama administration and promises to roll the budget back to the spending levels of 2006. But even if they could, that still leaves the $1.8 trillion untouched.
Furthermore, making the Bush deficits — aka “tax cuts” — permanent will add, according to the Congressional Budget Office, another $4 trillion to the deficit in the next decade. So far the Republicans have universally pretended that not to hear that, yet everyone knows there is no way to cut $5.8 trillion out of the federal budget. No one, Republican or Democrat, has yet suggested looking at the cost of the wars we are fighting across the Middle East, or the 800 military bases we have spread out across the globe, or the overpriced outside contractors, or the cost-overrun weapons projects. Libertarians Ron Paul, congressman of Texas, and his son Rand, just elected to the Senate from Kentucky, have made some noises about putting defense spending on the table, but otherwise none of the congressional Republicans is really serious about cutting deficits, only cutting taxes on salaries above $250,000.
And how will they repeal health care? A Republican-led House can vote to do so, but then the repeal heads to the Senate, where legislation goes to die. Even if Ben Nelson and a couple other Republicrats were to go along, Obama would have to sign the repeal — which he will veto instead. There are not two-thirds in either house who could override his veto. Repealing health care will become the “criminalize abortion” of the new century — a lost cause that Republicans trot out to energize their base.
The Beltway media have been asking in the week since the election if Obama “gets it.” But do they get it? Obama is not finished unless he chooses to be finished. A recent Newsweek poll (6 September) shows his approval rating at 47%, still higher than disapproval. At this point in their respective presidencies, Ronald Reagan had 42% and Bill Clinton 39%. Both were re-elected. The last three presidents to lose both houses of Congress in their first midterm — and that’s both houses — were Truman, Eisenhower, and Clinton. All were re-elected. Obama has lost only one.
It’s not over yet. But from here on, the fight gets even nastier. Get ready.