Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why I Have Not Thrown Up (Yet)

Last night's election results were predictable: a wave of partisanship and anti-incumbent fever were going to hand the House to the GOP, and the Democratic majority in the Senate would narrow significantly. Governorships would be handed to the GOP, allowing for re-districting to affect state politics for a decade. On top of that, Democrats were able to beat back Tea Party-backed challenges in Delaware, Nevada, and California, and this was largely expected. The political landscape is altered and the balance of power tips to the right, but there's no reason to believe that nothing will get done until 2012. Yet.

For the GOP, their reasons for voting the way they did were, to a large extent, divorced from reality. The problem was, as Michael Kinsley put it, that the voters on both sides wanted either "calorie-free chocolate cake" or "fat-free ice cream," neither of which was actually available. But, at least with the GOP voters, sometimes when you're dealing with irrationality, there isn't much that can be done to stop it except let the results of the insanity play themselves out. We couldn't force the anti-Kenyan Muslim voters to stay home, and we certainly couldn't talk sense into them. We couldn't discuss rational reasons why the solidly middle-class, wage-earning voters (who joined forces with millionaires and billionaires to return to fiscal policies that would only benefit the millionaires and billionaires) had completely failed to recognize that their circumstances had actually improved. So we were left with a tsunami of crazy -- or better, a tornado of insanity that wreaked havoc in some places and left others unscathed -- and now begins the period of clean-up and the fight to return to reality.

I can feel proud that billionaires in California are a little lighter in the wallet and will be staying home instead of assuming positions of power. Jerry Brown may still have the "Governor Moonbeam" persona to live down, but I have never encountered a more rational politician in California than him. That every statewide office was handed to a Democrat, while at the same time voters are allowing a simple majority to pass state budgets, the GOP has effectively been castrated. (One strange mixed message, however, was that voters also required a 2/3 majority to approve the imposition of "fees," so there will need to be some slick maneuvering by the Dems to increase state revenues as needed.)

The chart below provides yet one more reason why the results were so lopsided:

The portion of voters under 30 decreased by more than a third, while seniors (mostly Republican) voted in greater numbers. This is the traditional pattern in mid-terms: younger voters sit out the mid-terms and get more fired up every four years.

So while I'm not ready to hurl at the results, I have grave concerns about the level of obstruction the House will provide. First, I believe that the new committee chairs will begin investigating the Obama healthcare reform plan and look for things on which to indict the Obama presidency, or perhaps impeach the President. To hear Mitch McConnell put it, it is the GOP's top priority to unseat Obama in 2012, so whatever they have to do to create enough noise to tarnish an otherwise stellar reputation will be done. I believe the effort will be well-coordinated, using the FNC propaganda network, the WSJ editorial page, the Limbaugh radio network, and the Palin Facebook page and Twitter feed. It will be relentless, unhinged from the truth, and -- to my chagrin -- unchallenged by anyone in the Serious Media.

If the Democrats are to survive in 2012 -- and I believe they will as the economic recovery continues -- their campaign to communicate their agenda has to start now. Starting with President Obama, work needs to be done to set very clear battle lines while working behind the scenes to forge alliances and make deals. And I think that, eventually, Obama needs to use the media to engage directly with the GOP and show them that he is the President, instead of doing the political rope-a-dope.

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