It\’s not exactly news that the Republican Party has resurged on the coattails of movement conservatism over the past two years. The Tea Party has energized a formerly paralyzed electorate, and a wave of independent voters have flocked to the GOP after two years of disappointing unemployment statistics, high deficits and a bruised economy. Was the result of November 2nd a referendum on the president\’s agenda? Here\’s a list of reasons why the people chose Republicans over Democrats on election day.
1. The success of the filibuster
The minority party in the Senate used a record number of filibuster tactics in 2010 to squash up or down votes on critical issues. Republicans used the tactic to obstruct major (and popular) legislation such as the DISCLOSE Act, extending unemployment benefits, providing tax credits for small businesses, and the DREAM Act. They had one purpose, to stall any recovery or reform in an effort to get re-elected and electrify its base of \’Constitutional\’ conservatives who were upset with what they call \’handouts\’ (social welfare programs). Ironically, the filibuster is not in the Constitution.
2. A slow and painful rate of change
As the President constantly says, \”Change ain\’t easy, change is hard.\” Whenever major reforms have previously taken place in this country (i.e civil rights, financial reform and Medicare), the public generally split three ways. A portion of the people were either happy with the reform or accepted the reform movement. A division of folks that were interested in reform didn\’t believe the changes to the system were satisfactory. An extremely vocal portion of people were mildly upset with the status quo, but were totally uninterested in the proposed reform, therefore didn\’t support it. This accurately describes the independent electorate today, and there are clearly more people who disagree (or are unsatisfied) than agree with the Democrats\’ progress/agenda over the past two years.
3. The perpetual campaign ad, Fox News
It\’s no secret that Fox News Channel runs a conservative primetime hit-job on those with whom it disagrees. FNC is the only \’news\’ channel run by a company (Newscorp.) that openly donates money to the RGA. It\’s the only news channel that hires analysts who are heavily associated with the current political scene (Karl Rove, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin) and operates a one-sided, cyclonic narrative that never really ends. FNC has become a televised version of conservative talk radio (Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, etc.), which also provides the Republican party with perpetual free advertising.
Fox News also fully serves the interests of CEO Roger Ailes, who was a former chair of the GOP and Reagan enthusiast. By pushing the conservative candidates and stories he likes to the forefront of their \’news\’ operation, Ailes gave the GOP a distinct propaganda advantage in 2010.
4. High Unemployment
Jobs, jobs, jobs was the theme of this year\’s midterms, and that\’s understandable when unemployment is at 9.6% nationally. Unemployment should have been the theme of elections in 2002 and 2004 as well, but the American public didn\’t know (courtesy of the media, see above) that the supply side economic policies of the Bush Administration led to consistent quarterly job losses. The facts are that the Obama administration had its worst job losses before its economic plan was even enacted (about two months after taking office).
Since then we\’ve had painfully slow job growth, and small businesses are sitting on $1.6 trillion dollars of cash while big businesses are making record profits. Until aggregate demand picks up and expectations become more positive, that cash won\’t be spent on investment or the hiring of workers. If Congress addresses the issue of soft demand, it addresses the issue of unemployment. Of course, with the new Republican Congress, one can\’t expect stimulative measures such as a payroll-tax holiday or an infrastructure package to pass. Hopefully, the FED can help with what looks to be another round of quantitative easing.
5. Poorly executed healthcare reform
The healthcare reform bill didn\’t exactly pass with a wave of populous support. A long and drawn out legislative process eventually resulted in the Democratic-controlled Senate using reconciliatory measures to pass what future generations will view as a historic bill. In the meantime, however, about half of the public wants to repeal it and the Republicans have emphasized that very clearly in their Pledge to America.
Why the Obama administration chose the process to reform healthcare so early in its term instead of something less polarizing like an energy policy overhaul is questionable. The decision in retrospect was probably a bad one, which the elections highlighted. However, because he campaigned on it, the administration must have expected the public to be far more supportive of basic insurance reforms than it was.
Chances are, the underlying political mistake made by Democrats the past two years was expecting the public to support their campaign promises. Awareness that the American constituency doesn\’t foster an environment that is friendly to reform should have been higher. If disappointment is tied to expectation, Democrats should be very disappointed that they expected history to not repeat itself.