Gridlock in Congress, the product of virtual inability to reach any sort of compromise, portends a highly interesting and volatile battle in the 2010 elections. While partisanship is part and parcel of politics, the present schism is nurtured by the left or “progressive" wing of the Democrats' "we won – get over it” attitude while Republican schadenfreude over their inability to pass legislation is understandable.
It is no secret among the public's Republicans, Independents, third party adherents and moderate or centrist Democrats that the party in power now is neither the answer nor does it inspire any degree of optimism. The Democratic Party has owned both Houses of Congress for three years and, for the past year, the presidency with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a 59-vote cushion in the House and has yet to send the president the signature legislation that he campaigned on.
That the Democrats, holding a pat hand, could not even by bribing selected members of Congress, give the president a health care or clean air bill, provide funds for the promised closure of Guantanamo, or stem the bleeding in the job market is prima facie evidence of a leadership void. And, when one adds the botched interrogation of the underwear bomber and the on again, off again charade of trying terrorists in civil courts in New York City or other venue or by military tribunal (created for that very purpose), it begins to resemble comic opera.
Their fallback position, blaming the Republicans for obstructionism and former President Bush for all other and sundry failures, has worn thin, particularly when, for more than a year, they held all the cards. The president's primary successes have been achieved by adopting and building on the Bush policies on conducting the war, his surveillance measures (wiretaps included), and acting on the advice and counsel of the Defense Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and field commanders.
President Obama was borne into office on a wave of good feeling, a charismatic leader promising hope and change in the way business is done in Washington, e.g. ending partisan bickering and promising a transparent administration. Sadly, he handed full rein in developing and passing his agenda to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, neither of whom are known for bipartisan cooperation nor even for playing well with others. Their idea of transparency was to deny Republicans a seat in the legislative process.
Whether the fault lies with the president's placing too much trust in his Congressional leadership, relying too heavily on his considerable oratory skills, valuing ego over experience or simply trying too much too quickly, the advantage has moved to Republicans. The attempt to assuage the extreme left wing of the party at the expense of moderates backfired, forcing the Democrats highly touted majority off the track.
The hard lesson is that the problem is not one of Republican opposition but rather public rejection of the health care and cap and trade bills and runaway spending as too costly and intrusive. When more than 60 percent of the public hates the program, no amount of honey nor castor oil will make it palatable to voters or to legislators wishing re-election.
Does this hand Republicans an unfettered path to retake one or both Houses in 2010? Their wins in Virginia and New Jersey governor races and for the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy would appear a trend in that direction; however, they do retain considerable unpopularity from errors of omission and commission from when they drove the train. In fact, the nation's mood holds precious little affection for any incumbent — the "throw the bums out mood" has achieved unparalleled traction.
For Republicans to retake Congress, they must return to the fiscally conservative, common sense social, limited government, sound business policies and responsible actions that elected them in 1994 — the eschewal of which was their Waterloo in 2006. There is ample opportunity to affix blame for the current economic meltdown — neither party is exempt from a share of that responsibility.
Steadfastly rejecting the Democrat's legislation does not make them the "party of no" rather, it is merely a reflection of their philosophy and the current will of the people. However, now they must push alternative solutions that are both easily understood and pass the common sense test.
Republicans and conservatives could be their own worst enemies. The daily deluge by certain talk show hosts exhorting their brand of conservatism as the antithesis of Republicanism is not helpful. Nor is the attempt by the far right to label the grassroots "Tea Party" movement as anti-Republican as well as anti-incumbent — an action that plays into the hands of the left's decrying the movement as shallow and divisive.
The self-anointed "genuine" conservatives misuse the mantra of Ronald Reagan to dissuade voters from supporting anyone other than "pure" conservative candidates. As one who predates these "experts," this is at odds with Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Speak no ill of any Republican" and his philosophy: "Any member who supports the party at least 80 percent of the time is to be welcomed."
Whether Republicans retake Congress in 2010 is to be determined; however, an intramural free-for-all involving Republicans, Conservatives and Tea Partiers will return Democrats to office now and in the future.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.