Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Told You So

As much as I hate to say "I told you so" ... I told you so.

I've been warning for a long time that this electoral tsunami was coming. I had no idea how massive it would turn out to be. I just knew it was coming.

Oh, sure, I predicted a bad midterm for the Democrats. About a week and a half ago, I predicted the Republicans would gain 45 seats in the House.

When the dust settles, it may be different, but, as I write this, it appears that Republicans will exceed the 52–seat gain they enjoyed in the House in 1994.

And then I predicted that the Democrats would hang on to a nominal majority in the Senate — actually, I predicted a 50–50 split, but, with Vice President Joe Biden, they would have the tie–breaking vote.

At the moment, it does not appear likely that the Republicans will exceed their 1994 performance in the Senate, which would require them to make double–digit gains, but it does seem probable that the Democrats' advantage in that chamber will be severely reduced.

I've been saying the Democrats were on the road to an electoral disaster for a long time. Only recently did I put any numbers with my general assessment. If anything, I may have been overly optimistic about the Democrats' chances.

Considering what has happened in America tonight, does anyone want to argue that I was too harsh?

I didn't think so.

But let's address one myth that has lingered all year and has been given far too much currency by bewildered Democrats trying to rationalize what was happening — this has not been an anti–incumbent election.

As I write this, the whole story of Election 2010 is not yet known; when it is known, the facts may have changed. But, based on the way things stand right now, it's hard to conclude that voters are in an anti–incumbent mood.

Oh, they're against some incumbents. They always are. But anti–incumbency is not the defining characteristic of this election.

It is a little past 10 p.m. Central time. Vote totals have just started coming in from the West Coast so the outcomes of several close races there won't be known for hours, if not longer. But, currently
  • Most Senate incumbents who are seeking re–election — and who won their party's nomination (not all did — see Arlen Specter and Lisa Murkowski) — are winning.

    There are exceptions, of course — see Blanche Lincoln and Russ Feingold — but, for the most part, incumbents are not being tossed out at anything close to the rate that they were 16 years ago.

    When you examine the returns, the picture that is emerging is that most of the GOP's gains, both those that have been realized and those that are still presumed, seem to be coming in races for seats that were vacated by Democrats.

  • The voters have a different kind of relationship with their governors than they have with their senators and representatives, and those races typically operate under a different set of dynamics.

    Yet, even in the statehouse races, most incumbents who are on the ballot seem to be doing all right tonight. I guess the voters have been pretty understanding about state budget problems. So many states are having them these days.
And I knew that, for Barack Obama, arguably the most rigidly left–leaning president in the history of a primarily center/right nation, no matter which party was in the majority in the House and Senate, this election was going to force him to revisit "change" but in an entirely different context — as in a change in how he does things ... or attempts to do things.

It seems to me that "attempts" is going to be the operative word here. No longer will he have the luxury of a "filibuster–proof majority" in the Senate that — at least in theory — will rubber–stamp anything he desires.

But I guess that really isn't a new development. That went away back in January when the voters of Massachusetts elected a Republican to replace the late Ted Kennedy.

Now, supposedly, that special election was a warning to Democrats, a "blessing in disguise," wrote Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe back in January, "if only they are wise enough to recognize it."

But they weren't. Obama and the Democrats insisted on denying the facts — as incumbent presidents and their parties usually do when times are bad. And these times are about as bad as almost any you can think of from American history.

Granted, this isn't a second Great Depression. But it's bad enough. These times have been worse than any that working–age Americans can recall.

Whether that is so because of — or in spite of — Barack Obama is a matter of personal opinion. Both sides are adroit at manipulating the facts.

The economy was already in the toilet when Obama was elected, Democrats will tell you. And they are right about that.

But millions of jobs have been lost since Obama took the oath of office, and the unemployment rate has gone from 6.5% to about 9.6%, Republicans will counter. And they are right about that.

The reality is that, on this night, nearly two years after Obama's historic electoral triumph, the Democrats are enduring a crushing repudiation at the polls.

It is the same fate that may well await the Republicans if they are not perceived by the voters as having delivered on their promises. They need not be smug about their reversal of fortune. It could be temporary — very temporary.

I suspect that, if you could speak to every American who voted in this election, their message to their leaders would echo the Elvis Presley tune — a little less conversation, a little more action, please ...

In other words, stop pointing fingers and take care of the problems.

The apologists will have plenty of excuses — and examples from those same history books that can be used to demonstrate that it is possible for a president to overcome setbacks, even severe ones, in midterm elections.

Bill Clinton bounced back from losing control of Congress in 1994 to win re–election in 1996, some may say. And they will be right.

And others may point out that Ronald Reagan's party lost more than two dozen House seats in 1982, but Reagan won a landslide re–election in 1984. That, too, is correct.

But both Clinton and Reagan were pragmatic politicians who moved more to the political center after the midterm elections. I have serious doubts that Obama is capable of that.

Some people will say that it is simply a matter of the ebb and flow of the economy. They will assume that, by the time he must face the voters again, Obama will be the beneficiary of an economic recovery because things will be on the upswing.

Perhaps that is what will happen. But what evidence is there that such a recovery will happen?

I mean, other than history — which does repeat itself, but not usually in a good way.

Well, there are no guarantees, Obama's supporters will say. But they have already bought into the idea that the policies being pursued are the correct ones, that they just need time.

They assume that four years will be enough time for it to be clear for all to see that everything is on the right track.

I guess that also assumes that there won't be any unforeseen crises in the next couple of years — like that three–month oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — to disrupt the timetable.

Good luck with that.

Or that Obama won't feel compelled to resist when the Republicans proceed to repeal — as they have openly pledged to do — the health care reform bill.

That's what I see coming. I don't expect to hear any more about job creation from the White House next year than I have heard from it in the last couple of years — with the exception of that flurry of activity in the last few weeks that was clearly intended to mollify the voters.

There might even be less talk about it next year, since there will be no votes to actively pursue. And Obama has already shown a preference for advocating health care reform.

Of course, the flip side to all this is that the power the Republicans have gained in this election will be fleeting. Voters are not in a charitable mood. You might have figured that out in the last few hours from observing their about–face from 2008.

Two years from now, the voters will be looking to see if the GOP's plans to cut taxes to encourage businesses to start hiring again have produced any economic improvements.

If they see no improvement, they will be looking for a different direction to take. And that might work to Obama's advantage — if, like Bill Clinton 16 years ago, he is able to move more to the center, forge compromises and present himself as a true leader of a divided government.

But, I wonder, is that possible? In two years, can Obama develop those skills — when, as an instructor, a community organizer and a U.S. senator, he never had the opportunity that a governor would have to bring opposing sides together?

What I think is more likely is that we may see the emergence of a third party. The growing segment of the population that calls itself independent tires of being played this way by the smug and cynical ways of the major parties, and if it is disappointed by the Republicans it has helped to elect tonight, it will not necessarily return to the Democrats in 2012.

I don't think this new party will be the Tea Party, but it may combine some of its principles with some values that are consistent with a more left–leaning philosophy.

That's what many people find appealing about a centrist ideology — and a centrist approach to governing. It is truly bipartisan. It acknowledges something we all had to learn at some time in our childhoods — but, for some reason, some of us thought it would be different when we became adults.

You can't have your own way all the time.

Anyway, that's what I see on the horizon on this Election Night 2010.

But I could be wrong. What do I know?

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