"We have met the enemy, and he is us"
November 4, 2010 | Tuesday night was not a happy night for those of a liberal or progressive political persuasion. The House of Representatives did a complete flip-flop and switched from a solid Democratic majority to an equally solid Republican majority.
Democrats retained control of the Senate, but by a narrower margin. And at the state level, Republican governors now sit in 29 states — a gain of 9 — versus 16 under Democrats (plus 4 undecided and 1 independent). This election was almost a complete reversal from the one two years ago that swept Barack Obama into office and gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress.
The outcome was no surprise. Back in 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed what he called a hierarchy of needs (see right) that had to be satisfied before an individual could become "self-actualizing," making the very most of their potential and living up to the best ideals of society. Check it out:
Of course people voted their frustration and discontents! There is no way to think about how to be self-actualizing as a country, to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" (Prologue, US Constitution) when you're afraid of losing your house, might not find another job if you lose the one you have, feel alienated and under-appreciated.
In the mid-term election, the party in power inevitably loses seats — high expectations from the previous election have been dashed; all the hard problems for which easy solutions were promised are still around; reality has set in. But this is the third "change" election in a row, in which the electorate has thrown the rascals out. The balance of power is shifting every two years. Yikes!
So what went wrong? When Obama was elected, he had a 76% approval rating — motherhood, the flag, and apple pie don't get ratings that high — but 18 months into his presidency the number who approve the job he is doing has fallen to 44% and the number of people who think the country is on the "wrong track" has risen to over 60%.
The Republicans are interpreting the results as a repudiation of Obama policies. John Boehner, in his teary speech to the National Republican Congressional Committee on election night, said it was because the administration didn't listen to the people. And Mitch McConnell put it this way:
Their [Democrats'] view is that we haven't cooperated enough. I think what the American people were saying yesterday is that they appreciated us saying no to the things that the American people indicated they were not in favor of.
The press has picked up the Republican talking points. In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank reprises several questions asked during Obama's press conference that attempted to get him to admit that his policies had been rejected. Although Obama referred to the election as a "shellacking," Milbank concludes that whatever else Obama said, "what he would not acknowledge is that his policies had in any way contributed to the shellacking and sadness."
Here we have a splendid example of both the problem with the press and Obama's true mistake:
It isn't that people reject Obama's policies: they reject the distorted, erroneous caricature of his policies they have heard, foisted on the public by Republicans. To wit: if you ask people if they approve of Obama's health care reform — "Obamacare" — about half say no. But if you ask those same people about specific provisions actually in the health care reform, they are overwhelmingly in favor (CBS/NYTimes poll in Forbes.com)
Let's be clear: Obama has essentially done exactly what he campaigned on and for which he was elected. But he ignored the politics of being president and let the opposition frame all the issues. And because he did so, he's getting no credit for the long list of accomplishments achieved despite Republican opposition. The pussilanimous Democratic party couldn't/wouldn't stand up for Obama or themselves. With the help of the press, it's still happening as the story becomes the Republican talking points.
So what happens next? My prediction is for further gridlock in Washington. With those rabid Tea Partyers in the Republican caucus, anyone who thinks the Republican majority in the House will be reasonable is living in an alternative universe. And even if they could get their act together, we all know that the Senate is where bills go to die. Any dismantling of the gains of the first half of Obama's term will rightly fail, and Obama will hardly ever have to lift his veto pen.
And what will the people do in 2012? They'll take out their frustrations all over again with another round of kick the rascals out.
Oh, yes. We have met the enemy, and he is us.
Last updated on Apr 13, 2018