Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Inaugural, and my guess is that he’s not doing a lot of celebrating. That’s because yesterday, in a special Senate election to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s seat, Massachusetts voters elected a Republican to represent them.
President Obama and Democrats across the country must be asking themselves and each other, “How did this happen?”
My advice to Democrats is that they must not ask the “how” question but the “why” questions. Why would one of the most liberal states in the Union, one that did not have a single Republican representing it in Washington until last night, choose a Republican to fill Kennedy’s vacated seat? Why did a large lead by the Democratic candidate evaporate over the last few weeks? Why did a visit from President Obama on the candidate’s behalf do little to change the outcome of the race?
It appears to me that the President and Democrats in Washington have overestimated the mandate for change that they received from voters in the 2008 elections. They misread what voters were looking for when they claimed control of both the Senate and the House, as well as the White House. Those Democrats, who ran on the message of change, didn’t deliver the changes people were looking for.
The most telling sign of this is the health care bill that has so dominated both Houses of Congress for the past six months. Both the House and the Senate have managed to approve a health care bill despite the majority of voters being against the plans put forward by Congress. President Obama has stood behind health care reform despite voters’ increasing dissatisfaction with the bills and has paid a steep price as his job approval ratings have fallen.
So let’s look at this from an employee/employer relationship. You, Mr. Voter, are the employer. You have hired Mr. Obama and your senators and representatives to do a job for you in Washington. Mr. Obama and the Democrats have controlled two of the three branches of government for a full year now. It’s time for their one-year review, and the special election in Massachusetts shows the results of that review for all to see. Here’s what I think the Democrats should have learned:
We wanted to see change and hired you to bring change to the country. We did not provide a blank check for every program. While the economy continues to struggle and unemployment is in the double-digit range, you’ve focused on health care reform that will cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. Do you remember, “It’s the economy, stupid”? Your party delivered that line not that many years ago. How soon we forget. First things first: Get me back to work. Restore my confidence in the American economy before you pursue the rest of your agenda.
You promised the end of partisan and “insider” politics. Instead, your bosses see more of the same, and it’s amplified by the fact that the Democrats had what they thought was a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. You’re cutting special deals with your colleagues in places like Nebraska to push your health care reform through. If you can’t get your own party to agree and have to coax them with special favors, then maybe the bill isn’t all that great. Massachusetts voters have said, “We want a bill that both sides of the aisle can agree on.” Now you’re forced to cooperate with the other party to put forward a piece of legislation that works for everyone.
Listen to your bosses. Voters have been telling you what they think about your health care reform in poll after poll taken of the American people. But you think you know what’s best for us, instead of representing us in the fashion that you were hired to do. Remember, he who hires you can also fire you. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been on record as saying that losing some seats in the House to pass the bill is a cost she is willing to pay. In other words, “if a few of us get fired over this, it’s worth it.” It appears that Mr. Voter is ready to pass out some pink slips in the next election.
When you’re in power, you might get the credit but you also get the blame. You asked for the responsibility when we hired you, and now you’ve got it. Now I must say that the Republicans aren’t any more popular than the Democrats, in fact they are less so. But Massachusetts voters weren’t looking at party. Instead, they were trying to make sure the process works the way it’s supposed to. The two-party system brings balance. There must be give and take. If one party has too much power, the voters are sure to bring that back into line, which is exactly what happened yesterday in Massachusetts.
What happens next? If the Democrats are smart, they’ll start to move toward the middle and govern in a less partisan way. It’s what the American people want, and it shows in the message they sent yesterday. And what about health care reform? My guess is that President Obama has spent a good deal of political capital on this and would like to get something through. If the Democrats are smart, they will work with their brethren from the other side of the aisle to come up with a plan that will fix a problem looking for a solution, but one that we can afford as a country. But who knows what tomorrow will hold? After all, Massachusetts just elected a Republican.