The results are in, and in the words of former President George W. Bush, it was a thumping. What this nation witnessed on November 2nd was not merely a wave election, it was a tsunami. The obvious beneficiary of the voter's frustration this time around was the GOP, but as many have emphasized, it would be a huge mistake to interpret the outcome of this election as a mandate for the Republican establishment to carry on with business as usual.
As I cast my ballot on Election Day, it was difficult to shake feelings of trepidation and cynicism, despite the energy that has animated my fellow conservatives in the past several months. According to a new poll, I wasn't alone. A record 75% of voters surveyed prior to the midterm elections feel that things are not going well in America. Now that the suspense is over and the dust has settled, many questions remain. Is the uncertainty and doubt that has characterized the mood of the American people something that the new crop of reformers can overcome? Are these newly elected agents of the people ready to do the work, take the chances, and make the sacrifices necessary to bring about real change in the way our government does its business? Will the American people's vote of confidence be rewarded, or betrayed?
In the immediate aftermath of an election, it's difficult to tell whether or not the campaign pledges that landed a winning candidate in office will go on to guide their service, or be left on the cutting room floor. For the next couple of months, the winning candidates will bask in their victory and recover from the rigors of the campaign trail. But come January, the American people will be anxious to see if their representatives meant what they said.
The issues that distinguished the winners from the losers in this election were actually quite simple. The most compelling candidates made their case for election by pointing out how far from our constitutional heritage America has veered in recent years, and promising to fight to put us back on course. It's a message that has always resonated in each and every election cycle in which it's been employed as a campaign strategy. But as past elections have shown us, talk is cheap. It's easy to present yourself as a maverick or a rogue willing to take on the establishment when you're trying to get elected yet and everything is theoretical. It's difficult, however, to walk the talk when the special interests apply the pressure and offer up the perks that are part of the quid pro quo system that has prevailed in Washington for decades.
The kind of change the American people voted for requires more than rhetorical grandstanding on the floor of the House. It requires our elected representatives to be willing to risk everything, including their political careers, to do what's right. It means standing up to the special interests that have hijacked the political process in America. At the end of the day, all most fair minded Americans want is the freedom to pursue the American dream and a level playing field on which to do it. No special advantages for a favored few, no thumb on the scale for the special interests, and no Big Brother-engineered redistribution of wealth. These are the basic principles embodied in the Tea Party movement – principles that transcend political affiliation and socioeconomic status.
When the American people find themselves at the polls again in 2012, how can we know that our voice was heard in 2010? Will we find our government smaller, our freedom greater, our taxes lower, our spending wiser? Or will we find ourselves disappointed yet again, trudging dutifully to cast ballots for the latest crop of Johnny-come-lately's promising true change?
Senatorial candidate Marco Rubio, in an election-day interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto, warned of what will happen if the GOP and its newest members in Congress fail to live up to their campaign pledges:
"Now, I'm proud to be a Republican, I think it's the logical home of constitutional conservatism, but I think if there are big gains around this country tonight, Republicans should not make the mistake of believing that this was a national embrace of the Republican party. This is a second chance for the Republican party to be and do what it has claimed to be, and that is the home of the limited government, conservative movement in America, the center-right coalition that believes in free enterprise and freedom and liberty, and the things that have made America great. And I hope I can be a part of that. . . . If the Republican party does not become about ideas and about principles that speak to everyday people in the real world and in real life, then soon we'll be on the other end of the pendulum again. I mean, this pendulum keeps swinging from election to election because neither party seems to figure it out."
Well said, Senator Rubio. For their part, the President and Speaker-designate Boehner maintain that they have gotten the message. President Obama humbly pledged to do a better job and to seek out fresh ideas from across the aisle, while Mr. Boehner promised the American people (disenchanted Conservatives in particular) a fresh start.
The whole nation will be watching to see if they mean what they say. They'd better, because if they don't, the American people are prepared to effect additional change in order to restore the hope that was promised them.