In truth, I wouldn't say I'm disappointed, but that's only because I largely expected the results we received.
Instead, I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated about some exceptional lawmakers losing their jobs for no good reason. I'm frustrated about the role of secret money in the elections. I'm frustrated that there's so much idiocy in the discourse -- people think Obama raised taxes, bailed out Wall Street, and socialized health care, all of which is completely at odds with reality -- and that too many people believe it. I'm frustrated about voters saying they want all kinds of things -- less gridlock, fewer candidates beholden to special interests -- and then deliberately choosing the opposite.
I'm frustrated that, after two years of digging out of a ditch Republicans put us in, the country is ready to take the next productive step forward, and now that's impossible. I'm frustrated that the economy desperately needs additional investments to create jobs, but that's impossible, too. I'm frustrated that Republican leaders seem to be making no real effort to hide the fact that they prioritize destroying the president over literally everything else.
But most of all, I'm frustrated that there are no meaningful consequences for successes and failures. Republicans began last year as an embarrassed and discredited minority, and proceeded to play as destructive a role as humanly possible as Democrats tried to clean up their mess. GOP officials refused to take policymaking seriously; they refused to work in good faith; they refused to offer coherent solutions; they even refused to accept responsibility for their own catastrophic mistakes.
They've proven themselves wholly unprepared to govern, but have been rewarded with power anyway. It's ... frustrating.
This Krugman column definitely deserves to be read in full.
Newly elected Republicans are already killing jobs.
Gail Collins' brand of wry humor eases the pain a bit.
as does Stewart's:
My hunch is that Mr. Obama is also capable of learning lessons and growing as a president. And the Republican-majority House will offer a fine target for improved messaging — especially if its first priority will be to worsen the budget deficit by cutting taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
John Judis (TNR) doesn't:
What this election suggests to me is that the United States may have finally lost its ability to adapt politically to the systemic crises that it has periodically faced. America emerged from the Civil War, the depression of the 1890s, World War I, and the Great Depression and World War II stronger than ever—with a more buoyant economy and greater international standing. A large part of the reason was the political system’s ability to provide the leadership the country needed. But what this election suggests to me is that this may no longer be the case.
What will Obama do? What can he do? It all depends on the Republicans, of course. He will propose a new, painless energy and infrastructure package. He will accede to moderations in his health care plan, reducing the regulatory burden on small businesses and perhaps incorporating some form of malpractice reform. But he won't allow the basics of the plan to be gutted. He will agree to tax reductions — perhaps a brief delay in restoring the Clinton rates for the wealthy, perhaps a more dramatic payroll tax holiday (as proposed by Ohio's new Republican Senator, Rob Portman) to jump-start the economy. He will take his deficit-reduction commission's recommendation for reforming Social Security, a provision favored more by Republicans than Democrats, and try to pass some form of it, which would be regarded as a historic achievement.
But Obama's real agenda will be to outwit and outmaneuver the Republicans, as Clinton did after his shellacking in 1994, so that he can live to fight another term. He will have to make concessions — graciously, as if he believed in them (as Clinton did with welfare reform). But he'll also have to sense when to stand firm, when to push back (as Clinton did after he allowed the Republicans to shut down the government). He will have to hope for good news from overseas; he will have to pray nothing awful happens.
Obama will probably never shed a tear in our presence. Nor will he indulge in what he regards as cheesy emotional displays of anger or enthusiasm. Without those tools, he'll have to be a much better working politician than he has been. But he remains widely respected by the American people, if not quite loved. And the next click of the political metronome could be heading his way.
Greg Sargent argues that "'Pulling a Clinton' is as much about populism as it is about centrism."
In the days following the midterms, the president played his post-election role in this familiar Washington drama, duly calling the defeat a "shellacking" (his version of George W. Bush's 2006 "thumpin' ") and inviting everybody over for dinner.
But I would not hold out for a fundamentally New Obama. For better or for worse, Obama is today - and will be tomorrow - what he has always been: a bright man engaged in an endeavor that rewards luck and happenstance more often than it does intellect and good intentions. He's had his share of bad luck, and his notable inability to convince the country that he is leading a comprehensive economic turnaround is one of the most significant leadership failures in the modern history of the presidency. Still, the White House's tactical mistakes do not excuse the rest of us for ignoring our own history, a history that helps us gain perspective on the president's problems.
There is now a gap between the politically active and the politically dependent - that is, between obsessives who have a stake in the nature of political debate and those ordinary people who have a stake in the outcome of political debate. From cable television to the Internet, we are now living with a political class which has a financial and cultural interest in conflict rather than in governing. The result: Every incremental development is invested with apocalyptic significance.
Amid that constant churn, Obama has always managed to appear detached and clinical. That seemed a virtue during the campaign, in the madness and fear of the economic collapse. Now it seems a vice to those who expected a human figure to perform superhuman feats.
Obama is not surprised that the kingdom of heaven has failed to arrive in his first two years. A more historically minded country would not be, either.
Back when Republicans were unpopular because of the poor economy in late 2008, Barack Obama’s calm demeanor amidst economic crisis was said to be key to his popularity. Then when Democrats became unpopular because of the poor economy in late 2009, Barack Obama’s calm demeanor amidst economic crisis was said to be the key to his unpopularity. But if the economy improves, then conventional wisdom about every single aspect of Obama’s personality and policy agenda will pivot around that fact. With the economy in the dumps, the health care bill is liberal overreach. If the economy improves, the health care bill will be said to demonstrate the genius of pushing a moderate proposal with no public option. Just you wait.
Dan Froomkin, Robert Kuttner, and Helene Cooper (NYT)
all discuss things that Obama can do without Congress. There's plenty he can accomplish. The problem is that since Congress controls the budget the economy is the one area where he can't bypass them. And the economy is what will determine if he is reelected.
Here's an issue to keep on your radar: the debt ceiling
TPM notes that:
In an interview with Fox News this evening, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress would not vote to increase the nation's debt ceiling -- legislation that must pass to avoid a global economic panic -- without "strings." Those strings could be attached to anything, including health care legislation.
Joe Weisenthal (Business Insider):
More on this dynamic of "total opposition" here.
Chait on what Dems could have done differently. He has some ideas, but concludes:
When you're talking about the effects of tactics and policies, you're talking about the effects on the margins. There were no good choices, only degrees of bad.
The country is not radically different from the one that elected George W. Bush at least once, and where only a small portion of voters identify themselves as liberal. But it's not true that Obama didn't recognize or engage with that conservatism. To the consternation of many liberals, he very much did, which is why he spent the bulk of last year looking for bipartisan alliance on health care, around principles that had already been adapted to reflect the proposals of actual conservatives, or why he visited the House Republican Caucus last January and tried to take their ideas seriously, a high point of his presidency. But conservative Republicans dodged the outreach. They cut themselves off from their own proposals or, like Sen. Lindsay Graham, pretended to cooperate (on climate change or immigration reform) while looking for excuses to defect. Conservatism survived, if it did, by making itself elusive, avoiding any attempt to pull it into the governing process.
Evan Bayh came out with an op-ed right after the election arguing that it was a result of liberal "over-reach," specifically in regards to health care reform. This prompted a number of good rebuttals: Ezra Klein, Greg Sargent, Igor Voksky, Matthew Yglesias and Jonathan Cohn are worth reading. I don't think HCR really did hurt Dems (polls on that are split, it's the economy people are pissed about) but that's really besides the point: The real way to measure political success is what did you do to improve people's lives and make this a better country. Not your ability to hold on to power. As Cohn notes, Bayh is very good at winning elections, but has no great legislative accomplishments to show for it... is that really what we want from our politicians?
We've become so obsessed with who wins or loses in politics that we've forgotten what the winning and losing are about. Partisans fixate on punishing their enemies in the next campaign. Reporters, in the name of objectivity, refuse to judge anything but the Election Day score card. Politicians rationalize their self-preservation by imagining themselves as dynasty builders. They think this is the big picture.
They're wrong. The big picture isn't about winning or keeping power. It's about using it.
Most bills aren't more important than elections. This one was. Take it from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. Yesterday, in his election victory speech at the Heritage Foundation, he declared, "Health care was the worst piece of legislation that's passed during my time in the Senate." McConnell has been in the Senate for 26 years. He understands the bill's significance: It's a huge structural change in the relationship between the public, the economy, and the government.
Politicians have tried and failed for decades to enact universal health care. This time, they succeeded. In 2008, Democrats won the presidency and both houses of Congress, and by the thinnest of margins, they rammed a bill through. They weren't going to get another opportunity for a very long time. It cost them their majority, and it was worth it.
And that's not counting financial regulation, economic stimulus, college lending reform, and all the other bills that became law under Pelosi. So spare me the tears and gloating about her so-called failure. If John Boehner is speaker of the House for the next 20 years, he'll be lucky to match her achievements.
It's funny, in a twisted way, to read all the post-election complaints that Democrats lost because they thought only of themselves. Even the chief operating officer of the party's leading think tank, the Center for American Progress, says Obama failed to convince Americans"that he knows their jobs are as important as his." That's too bad, because Obama, Pelosi, and their congressional allies proved just the opposite. They risked their jobs—and in many cases lost them—to pass the health care bill. The elections were a painful defeat, and you can argue that the bill was misguided. But Democrats didn't lose the most important battle of 2010. They won it.
Steve Kornacki (Salon):
On issue after issue, Pelosi's House produced for the president. The stimulus was larger before the Senate watered it down. Cap-and-trade made it through the House, before dying in the Senate. A stronger healthcare reform package -- one with a public insurance option -- was pushed through the House, only to be stripped down by the Senate. Ditto for Wall Street reform. And let's not forget the lower-profile legislation, on fair pay, student loan reform, cash-for-clunkers, and credit card reform, that made it through both chambers. The 111th Congress will be remembered for the way it ended, with a seismic Democratic defeat, but that doesn't change the fact that it was one of the most productive -- ever.
When she appears before the cameras, Pelosi often seems stiff and almost brittle. In person, she's warm and engaging - also funny, earthy and just plain good company. She tells a great story. She turns a mean phrase. Colleagues on Capitol Hill almost universally describe her as a good boss and simply a good person.
It was frustrating to hear Republicans demonize her in their thunderous public statements, then confess privately that they really liked her. Ain't politics grand?
And demonize her they did. In their midterm campaign, Republicans attacked Pelosi more often, and more brutally, than they attacked Obama. They made her the living embodiment of Evil Washington, or of limousine socialism, or of whatever alleged plagues that Democrats were supposedly visiting upon the body politic.
The GOP was able to make Pelosi an issue only because she was so effective as speaker. Obama came to office with a long, ambitious agenda. Pelosi had a big majority to work with in the House, but it was ideologically diverse - Blue Dogs, progressives, everything in between. Somehow, she managed to deliver.
Some of the votes she won looked impossible. On health-care reform, there appeared to be no way the House could ever be persuaded to pass the more conservative bill that had passed the Senate. At one point, she told me she could find only "maybe a dozen votes" for the measure. But she and Reid managed to find a workable set of modifications - and a clever parliamentary maneuver to pull the whole thing off.
"Because I'm effective," she answers matter-of-factly. "It's why they had to do it. They had to put a stop to me because we were effective in passing health-care reform, which the health insurance industry wanted to stop; Wall Street reform, which Wall Street wanted to stop; [reforms of] students loans for taking the money out of the banks and giving it back to the taxpayer and to families."
And in what might be read as a reminder of why she should remain as leader, she adds: "I'm one of the most effective fundraisers that the Congress has had . . . because I believe in something."
You don’t get to be Speaker without being a shrewd political thinker, but a big part of her shrewdness was not overdoing the political thinking. She always kept her values front and center and made the political thinking subordinate to her substantive mission in politics. The politics, in other words, was a means to an end and the ends she served were important. We need more people like that in DC, not fewer.
The German magazine Speigel has a frightening article on the decline United States as a world power. Excerpts:
The Desperate States of America are loud and distressed. The country has always been a little paranoid, but now it's also despondent, hopeless and pessimistic. Americans have always believed in the country's capacity for regeneration, that a new awakening is possible at any time. Now, 63 percent of Americans don't believe that they will be able to maintain their current standard of living.
And if America is indeed on the downward slope, it will have consequences for the global economy and the political world order.
The fall of America doesn't have to be a complete collapse -- it is, after all, a country that has managed to reinvent itself many times before. But today it's no longer certain -- or even likely -- that everything will turn out fine in the end. The United States of 2010 is dysfunctional, but in new ways. The entire interplay of taxes and investments is out of joint because a 16,000-page tax code allows for far too many loopholes and because solidarity is no longer part of the way Americans think. The political system, plagued by lobbyism and stark hatred, is incapable of reaching consistent or even quick decisions.
The country is reacting strangely irrationally to the loss of its importance -- it is a reaction characterized primarily by rage. Significant portions of America simply want to return to a supposedly idyllic past. They devote almost no effort to reflection, and they condemn cleverness and intellect as elitist and un-American, as if people who hunt bears could seriously be expected to lead a world power. Demagogues stir up hatred and rage on television stations like Fox News. These parts of America, majorities in many states, ignorant of globalization and the international labor market, can do nothing but shout. They hate everything that is new and foreign to them.
But will the US wake up? Or is it already much too late?
The United States of 2010 is a country that has become paralyzed and inhibited by allowing itself to be distracted by things that are, in reality, not a threat: homosexuality, Mexicans, Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, health care reform and Obama. Large segments of the country are not even talking about the issues that are serious and complex, like debt, unemployment and serious educational deficits. Is it because this is all too threatening?
Gridlock as the American Status Quo
It has become a country of plain solutions. People with college degrees are suspect and intelligence has become a blemish. Manfred Henningsen, a German political scientist who teaches in Honolulu, Hawaii, calls it "political and economic paralysis." One reason for the crisis, says Henningsen, is that the American dream, both individual and national, has in fact always been a fiction. "This society was never stable. It was always socially underdeveloped, and anyone who talks about the good old days today is forgetting the injustices of racist America."
Agitators like Glenn Beck are "nationalist, racist and proto-fascist," says Henningsen. "They take advantage of the economic situation, almost the way the right-wing intelligentsia did back in the Weimar Republic."
Gridlock has become the modern America status quo, and the condition Henningsen calls "institutional idiocy" is especially obvious in the country's most important legislative body, the Senate, which has come to resemble a royal court where nothing has happened in centuries.
Each state elects two senators, including Wyoming, with its 540,000 inhabitants, and California, with a population of 37 million. If enough senators from states with small populations band together, they have the capacity to block everything, which is precisely what they do. And no one questions the rules, both written and unwritten. The Senate is no longer a club in which the members speak to one another. The filibuster, a way of blocking legislation through continuous debate, was the exception in the past, but today it's the rule. The Republicans have already used the filibuster to torpedo more than 100 of Obama's proposals.
TOMORROW: AMERICA'S FUTURE, THE WORLD'S FUTURE
A creative country doesn't stop being creative because of a crisis. A society that has produced universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford or MIT, companies like Apple and Microsoft on the West Coast, and institutions like the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and the Museum of Modern Art in New York doesn't suddenly become stultified. There are always new projects, even in the United States of 2010. There are startups, new companies and, of course, great thinkers.
But once a decline has gotten underway, it isn't easy to change direction. Many young companies in Silicon Valley don't last very long because they are unable to secure financing or find customers. The country seems lethargic in a very un-American way -- or perhaps it's just the new American way. The demonization of political opponents, the end of debates, the condemnation of intellect -- these are all ominous signs.
James Maguire recounts his experience of the the Stewart/Colbert "Sanity" rally. He's generally positive about the event, but also had this to say:
Near the end, Stewart drops comedy (mostly) and addressees us sincerely. The crowd grows fully silent as we sense his intensity. “We live in hard times, not end times,” he says, to robust applause. Still, we can disagree and not be enemies. The real bogeyman, he suggests, is the media. “The 24-hour politico-pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.” This broken media machine over-amplifies and distorts issues. The funhouse mirror of media coverage encourages division, hampers our efforts to work together. We must rise above its polarizing effect to work together for the common good.
His speech feels heartfelt, but to my ears it has a stark omission. Oddly, he does not exhort us to vote, now on the eve of the midterms. Why not? Is a call for reasoned discourse somehow mutually exclusive with a call for actual involvement?
Certainly the recent Beck/Rally rally here on the Mall didn’t discourage fierce partisanship. The conservatives are teeth-and-fang one-sided, showing no interest in meeting in the middle. The youthful idealists standing in this field today were foot soldiers that helped elect Obama in 2008. With the midterms just 72 hours away, must they be told that moderation is the greatest virtue? Conservatives are working phone banks night and day. And not a single peep this afternoon about the critical importance of voting?
Comparing this event with the conservative rally here in August points up something else unfortunate, something that relates directly to Stewart’s call for mutual respect.
The contrast between the two events is, yes, ideology, but more fundamentally — and more bitterly — one of class. Video footage of the earlier event compared with my view of today reveals that, while this event trends young, college educated, and affluent, the earlier event appeared less affluent, older, less educated; this event is racially diverse; that event was overwhelmingly white. This is hip; that was square. Today is more about knowledge workers, August looked more inclined toward service and factory workers, folks far more displaced by the long recession.
Those people are upset — with good reason. All of America has suffered with the downturn but they’re suffering more. They’re enduring one long dark economic slide, with no end in sight. Deteriorating social conditions (like a persistent 9.5 percent unemployment rate) always fuel the rise of inchoate protest groups like the Tea Party. Yet while the group’s platform is half-baked, the economic pain that fuels it is very real and deserves to be taken seriously. Those folks are in no mood for irony. How can you be ironic when almost the last damn factory in Dayton just shut down and your brother-in-law – who worked there for 8 damn years – was laid off? Those folks don’t want to “restore sanity,” they want to restore their jobs. Their communities are falling apart and they’re pissed off and, frankly, scared shitless. Irony? To hell with that.
Bill Maher had some words along the same lines:
Finally, since we're all talking about 'Shellacking,' I realized the lyrics to this song perfectly capture the message voters sent Washington last week:
Message received, loud and clear!