As predicted by the polls and certainly expected by serious students of politics, a massive red tide from the right wrested control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats and removed a sizable chunk of their Senate majority. The rout did not play favorites, taking down at least two incumbent senators (Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin), while also defeating three long-termcommittee chairmen, one of whom (House Armed Services' Ike Skelton of Missouri) was highly regarded on both sides of the aisle.
By any accounting measure, this is a game changer for Congress as well as for the country. And, the talking heads and syndicated columnists alternately pooh poohing the importance of or lamenting the results notwithstanding, the only ones who count — the people — have spoken, loudly and clearly.
Nevertheless, it would be a serious error in judgment to attribute this drubbing of Democrats to any warm and fuzzy feeling in the electorate for Republicans — it just ain't there. If you remember, the public made its dissatisfaction known in 2006 and 2008, seeking a change in political climate and received an overdose of the same — higher unemployment and more government spending.
It does not require an astute political scientist to understand the root cause of this shift. One need look no further than the misguided arrogance of an administration, with huge majorities in both houses of Congress, promoting and securing passage of toxic and unpopular legislation. Ignoring the will of the people just because you can is a tactic almost certain to boomerang.
A large measure of the blame belongs to the Congressional leadership. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made it known from November 2006 onward that they were the winners and would drive the bus leftward, heeding no suggestions from the back seat.
Orchestrating passage of health care reform by both houses and cap-and-trade legislataion by the House of Representatives, with the philosophy that the end justifies the means, promoted massive unease in the business community and did not set well with an electorate promised the most transparent and ethical representation ever. Nor did the profligate spending that resulted in $1.4 trillion and $1.3 trillion deficits in 2009 and 2010 and the failed stimulus package promise of an era of responsibility.
The backlash is also laid at the feet of President Obama, who took for granted a sweeping mandate for change from an early adulating electorate and the mostly sycophantic media. A gifted orator on the campaign trail, he soon alienated blocs who had tuned in his message. Condescendingly describing rural voters as "bitter" and "clinging to guns and religion" and, as recently as last month alleging "facts and science is not winning because we are not hard wired to think straightly when we are scared" does not pass the Dale Carnegie test "how to win friends and influence people."
Succinctly, insinuating that voters are not all that smart, along with ignoring their collective concerns was neither wise nor defensible on the part of the president nor Congress. All too often, it seems we are being governed from the faculty lounge. The administration and its Congressional majority should have heeded Colin Powell's astute counsel: "If you break it, you own it."
The election result is in no way a vote of confidence for Republicans but, rather, a stinging rebuke of Democrats for failing to stop the bleeding in the last four years. Control of the House and a more competitive Senate lineup will place a bull's-eye on the back of the GOP — it is shape up or ship out — no progress, and the voters will exact a similar toll.
Where do the tea parties fit in this equation? Despite being attacked continually and unfairly as radical, racist, unpatriotic and other less-than-flattering portrayals, the tea parties got everyone's undivided attention and were arguably the political catalyst for this upheaval. They will rightfully demand a role in Republican reconstruction.
The tea party movement can serve as a plus or a minus in the exercise of the newly acquired Republican strength. Clearly hostile to some of the past "sins" of the GOP, they can work in cooperation to reform that which they find offensive or they may dig in their collective heels and refuse to play. Their loosely organized rank and file is formidable but, unless they respond to or provide leadership, 2012 may be a rerun of 2008.
The ball has come to rest in the president's court. He may accept or reject the message. In his televised appearance, he offered to study GOP proposals and to consider any that showed merit; however, in all honesty, he appeared to pay no more than lip service that the message was meant for him.
We have been on this road too long — blaming George Bush does not create jobs nor does it fix the economy.
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.