What defeated the Democrats

8 11 2010

It seems every publication in the world printed a headline along the lines “Now Republicans must do the hard part … governing,” so I figured if they can do it, so can I! I know it’s a little bit late but just in cause you can’t get enough post-election political analysis, what follows is my own unqualified thoughts.

Winning elections when the economy sucks is one thing (and a quite easy thing at that). The Republicans now face the more tricky task of governing. If they want to spend the next two years continuing to argue about health care reform, fine. That will make it easy enough for Obama and the Democrats then to accuse them of grid-locking Congress and preventing the good work of the people from being done.

What really fueled the mid-term turnaround was not anger against “Obamacare,” but fear. Fear of inaction, fear of deficits, fear of a lack of jobs. Paralyzing the government is not exactly a way to ease such fears, but instead is more like to inflame them. Especially if the economy starts turning around and unemployment begins to fall more rapidly, then it looks even more foolish to denounce the reform as destroying everything when everything is getting better. And if it doesn’t, well then, the GOP is now just as culpable as its political counterpart.

What always strikes me when it comes around to electon analysis is the amazingly short memory people seem to have. Does no one remember how in 2008 and 2006 the Democrats were swept into power using pretty much the same language as the Tea Party, the populists de jeur? Bush was seen as a trampler of the constitution because of the way he handled the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the crisis of the 2004 election. We hear those same words again, “[Blank] is destroying the constitution!” Except this time, it’s Obama with health care and deficits not Bush with bullets and hurricanes.

There’s a certain detachment from logic here and I think it hurts the American people and the political process, but unfortunately it’s the way the systems seem to always function. Yes, I’m sorry, but it’s true, there was never this mythic period of American politics were all our statesmen where good and true and the moral fiber of the country strong. Read a biography of Andrew Jackson or better yet, Aaron Burr. These were some of the dominant politicians of the time and they did some cra-hu-azy shit.

So, my bottomline on Tuesday’s election: people reacted out of a fear that the economy has not grown fast enough. The Republicans told them it was because of the health care and the (completely successful) bailouts of the banks and federal reserve, and people found that easy to believe. Politically, Obama’s and the Democrats’ policies failed and for that people across the country decided they would give the other side some power and a shot to fix things.

Unfortunately, the emphasis is that, politically, health care et al. were a failure, but it’s a little too soon to judge them on a more substantive basis. Health care hasn’t even fully taken effect yet and it’s already being assailed as this dramatically terrible piece of legislation. And of course, there’s the fun fact that while as a whole it’s largely unpopular, its individual components enjoy broad support. Tuesday’s results more accurately reflect a dissatisfaction with the lack of speed in the economic recovery than a repudiation of the Democratic agenda.

However, Obama did himself (and his party) no favors by campaigning as transformational and then governing as presidents pretty much always have. Everyone, liberal or conservative, felt that business in Washington had been conducted as usual. When you can’t live up to the hype, the backlash can be brutal. This has become  increasingly true in our Internet age. Music provides a good analogy. A band can go from little-known to blog-success to Youtube sensation to hipster rejection to musical dustbin in just a few weeks (see: Tapes n’ Tapes). I’d consider the campaign Obama’s debut and the last two years his mediocre sophomore effort, so I have hope that he can come through the criticism and craft that solid third album.

Lastly, the ol’ tax cut debate has been hot once again. As for the argument etc. that taxes will kill all business and, in general, are the most anti-american thing in the world — the highest marginal tax rate in the 1950s was 91 percent and yet it is largely considered a period of economic growth and apple pie. Regan raised taxes and it increased the deficit. Debate on their relative merits all you want, but whatever else they may be, they are not a simple solution to every fiscal problem in the U.S.

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