A new beginning in this country. The American people spoke in a resounding way in the recent mid term elections. Americans will elect Democrats, Republicans, anyone for that matter---who pledge to work across party lines for solutions to problems--not just angling for a position, only to lose it and hope to carry it to the ballot the next election cycle. Compromise may not be the order of the day all the time, but consensus and congeniality are - and we saw that on Nov. 7. You can't really say this Congress was a rubber stamp for the President of the United States, because often times they didn't get all that they wanted passed; not by a long shot--Social Security reform, tax permanency, further protections under the Patriot Act, immigration, the list is endless. Yet, these are kitchen table issues that more and more Americans want solved everyday. Which leads to an interesting paradigm- it’s evident that Iraq was the most important issue on the minds of most Americans in this election, yet they increasingly want more and more attention focused on the domestic issues here at home. Immediately after 9-11, terrorism and national security were at the top of the list. Where was health care? Certainly not a priority at best. That has come full circle now. Thank the Republicans and this president for that success, but the byproduct has been a return to more domestic issues, and more moderate stances, coupled with distaste for the Iraq war. Where this Congress and Republicans failed was showing that Iraq was part of the greater global war on terror, and it lacked the punch it may have had in 2002 and 2004. Remember, Republicans defied the odds and history in both 2002 and 2004 when they retained control of the majority and even gained seats in 2004 because they spent that time focused on solutions. They lost their way in the past two years and played not to lose.
So the onus is definitely on the new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and company to put some "legislative points on the board" for all voters to truly see there is a difference in the two parties. If they lurch left, with hearings and calls for impeachment, and look vindictive, then '08 will be rocky for both parties.
If the White House looks to congressional Republicans to bail them out of these hearings and oversights, then that looks bad as well. Republicans first of all won't oblige, because they got the message on Election Day, but second, it's not a solution to the real-world issues Americans are facing, like the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), wage stagnation and declining health benefits.
Rahm Emmanuel calls that "small ball" and he's right--small issues that won't impact American history, but do improve the quality of life for many Americans. There again, how the Democrats enact those legislative items will dictate how the public perceives them. One must admit that the Democrats will have some "honeymoon' period or legislative grace session, because this year was more a referendum on the Administration and Congress. Therefore, if Democrats do move left, the electorate will still have fresh in their minds the thought: "well, they're still not as bad as the Republicans."
Further, I suspect the Democrats will emphasize the same message points that Dean & Co. used election night--"first things first, root out the corruption and mismanagement of this administration and Congress..." In other words, they'll spend the next 18 months holding hearings, all in the name of "hey, we need to figure out how bad and deep the Republicans messed up..." and my fear is the electorate may be inclined to give them the latitude. So every time they head into a Democrat controlled policy agenda, and the public dislikes it, they can always stop, and blame the Republicans. You will recall that former Virginia Governor Mark Warner did it in Virginia when he tried to tinker with the economy/tax base. When the General Assembly pushed back the Governor, he just blamed the previous Republican administration and emphatically stated he was trying to clean up Gilmore's mess. The Democrats are the best at this, and the Fourth Estate will be all too eager to help write that story.
What can Republicans do while the Democrats attempt to run the House? Roll over and revel in the fact that their in the minority? No. There is a school of thought by Dick Armey and others that this leadership lost its way when it spent more time on social conservative issues like gay marriage and forgot about the libertarians and economic conservatives--camps where more and more independents are headed these days. The high water mark of this movement was Terry Schiavo-where congress got involved when many felt they should not have.
Look at the economy - stock market up 18% for the year, and not many of our voters knew about it. Government spending is the sleeping giant that could spell defeat for Democrats in the coming years if they don't seriously make an effort to rein in spending. There again, they'll blame this President and Congress, but they will bear the brunt of the blame if they fail and don't achieve resounding results in this area. That's where Republicans have their best chance to lead. They lost their entire lead on the generic ballot for which the party can do a better job controlling spending and improving the economy; and unless they get serious about that in a long-term way, we will stay in the minority.