These are the people -- the House leaders more than Obama, surprisingly -- who have shaped the Democrats' stimulus package, cap-and-trade legislation and health-care bills. The rules of the House allow a skillful leader like Pelosi to jam legislation through on the floor, although she's had more trouble than expected on health care. But their policies have been meeting resistance from the three-quarters of Americans who don't describe themselves as liberals.
Republican leaders tend to come from mostly suburban districts closer to the national political average. Of the 19 lawmakers who are in the GOP's House leadership or who are ranking committee members, four come from districts carried by Obama. The average vote in the other 15 districts was a less-than-landslide 57 percent to 41 percent for McCain. Only three of those districts voted more than 60 percent for McCain.
In these circumstances, the Republicans have been winning the battle for public opinion and, more importantly, for public enthusiasm -- in sharp contrast to 2008. Democrats complain that Republicans have no alternatives on health care or other issues. Actually some of them do, but no one is paying any more attention to them than people did to Democratic proposals four years ago, when Republicans held the White House and congressional majorities.
The exit poll showed that though the Republican label had lost support since 2004, conservatives did not lose their edge over liberals. The health-care debate has shown that the economic distress caused by the financial crisis and recession has not, at least so far, moved significant numbers of Americans to change their views on the proper balance between markets and government.
"I don't want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking," Barack Obama said on a campaign stop in Virginia on Aug. 6. "I want them just to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess."
When a politician tries to stop debate, it's a sign he's losing the argument. Obama seems to have let the House Democrats overplay their hand. He ignored the fact that in our system neither party ever has all the advantages.