What I think of the midterm election results.

As I often share my admittedly unsolicited political views in this space, I think it’s only fair to comment on the beat-down that the Republicans delivered to the Democrats last week. Is this a repudiation of all things Obama? Is there a Republican mandate? Will gridlock be a thing of the past? Well, this is what I think:

Why did the Republicans win so completely?

  • They understand that they have to rev up the base for every election, but that each voter matters in low-turnout elections. They do a great job of getting people fired up to vote. After all, the future of America is at stake! For Democrats, it’s more an attitude of ‘Things will be ok either way but help us enact policies.’ Not the same level of urgency, for sure.
  • Gerrymandering means that there are really not that many seats in contention for either party at the House level.
  • For the Senate, it’s easier to get a single candidate elected, especially in an otherwise non-eventful voting year. If you can convince the base to come out in any election, you are going to fare well. This is especially true in years when there is a low turnout.

Why did the Democrats lose so badly?

The Democrats seemed terribly afraid of their own record, even though it’s remarkably positive right now. John Stewart made this point well on his show recently with correspondent Jordan Klepper:

KLEPPER: Last night, at approximately 11:27 EST, the Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate and the results were almost immediate. The economy, now growing at a robust 3.5 percent. Gas this morning, under three bucks a gallon. Look, stock market at record levels. Deficits cut in half. Ten million more Americans have health insurance. And unemployment sub six percent for the first time since we elected “chairman” Obama.

STEWART: But wait. Hang on a second Jordan, because the things that you’re describing…

KLEPPER: Even Ebola… look Jon… which was on the verge of destroying the country under Obama’s feckless leadership has suddenly become a problem for like… one guy. It’s morning in America Jon!

STEWART: Jordan, that is an incredibly impressive list that you ticked off of things that happened under Obama and the Democratic Senate.

KLEPPER: Oh please Jon, if Democrats had accomplished all of that, they would have been out there bragging about it for months. It would have been the central message of their campaign instead of their actual message, which was like, I’m quoting this here, “We’re sorry, don’t be mad! We don’t like Obama either and we like guns too! Amen.

What does this mean for the last two years of Obama’s presidency?

  • Probably not much, honestly. I mean, are Republicans going to be even more obstructionist than they have been? I don’t see how. So it’ll probably be more of the same.
  • Republicans may┬áhave to take some responsibility for governing now. However, I can’t see them passing anything that will actually include compromise. My guess is they will pass a lot of legislation with Republican stances and make Obama veto them or they will pass legislation that appears reasonable on the surface but contains poison pills that are completely unacceptable. Either way, they will then claim they are passing legislation and that Obama is now the real obstructionist.
  • Perhaps there will be some areas of true compromise. I hope that this comes to fruition. Like most Americans, I value compromise and wish our elected representatives would engage in it more often.
  • Republicans are not evil, and their ideas are worthwhile, even if I often disagree with them. I actually think the biggest problem is that Republicans regularly promote the idea that Obama and Democrats are evil and seek to destroy the country. That’s simply not true either and makes real dialogue impossible.

Does this mean the country has rejected Democratic policy ideas and endorsed Republican proposals?

I really don’t think so. If you look more closely, democratic agenda items were overwhelmingly passed even though those states also elected Republican candidates. For instance:

  1. Marijuana legalization
  2. Minimum wage increase
  3. Personhood Amendment

At the end of the day, I think Congress is so gridlocked there just really isn’t a whole lot of room for anything to really get done, no matter what the election results are. The sad thing is, we have real problems around immigration, public health, infrastructure, climate change, and more that desperately call out for our elected officials to work together. I don’t see that happening any time soon, but a boy can dream, right?

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‘No Drama Obama’ Wins Again

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President Obama is often criticized for his leadership style. Andrew Sullivan wrote about the criticism from the left and the right in his piece from January 2012 entitled “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics.” That article is still well worth a read today, particularly in light of this commentary about the Affordable Care Act’s disastrous roll out and Obama’s response:

Why Obama Fired No One Over Botched Roll Out

Having survived a bungled launch of the Obamacare website last year, President Obama’s Rose Garden victory lap yesterday “ended a telling chapter in Obama’s approach to presidential leadership,” National Journal reports.

“During the darkest days of the website meltdown, Obama made it clear to those who asked that it was crucial for him not to fire any high-ranking administration officials. Sebelius and McDonough both reasonably feared they would be shown the door.”

“Holding a maligned, self-doubting team together in moments of peril is too often oversimplified by the phrase ‘No Drama Obama.’ It’s more complex than that. Obama has convinced himself that scaring people with a ceremonial firing deepens fear, turns allies against one another, makes them risk-averse, and saps productivity. At no time was this distillation of presidential power put to more strenuous administration-wide test.

via Why Obama Fired No One Over Botched Roll Out.

As others have pointed out, there was another factor in keeping Sebelius and McDonough in place: the current political climate means it would have been impossible for their replacements to be confirmed. This would have left these critical departments leaderless while in crisis. In a strange way, the Republican philosophy of obstructionism actually assisted Obama’s long game. He didn’t want to fire Sebelius and McDonough and knowing they could not be replaced made it easier to keep them.

On the contrary, if the Republicans could have successfully pushed them out, they would have vastly reduced the capacity of the administration to respond to these challenges. The whole confirmation process for Sebelius’ replacement would have been a circus while HHS waited for a new secretary. Once confirmed, they would have lost valuable time getting that person up to speed. This, combined with the implementation challenges of the ACA, might actually have been disruptive enough to force democrats to abandon ship.

Instead, Obama never even acknowledged the calls for Sebelius to resign. He helped her find the resources needed to fix Healthcare.gov and they ultimately accomplished their original goal, despite losing 2+ months due to the launch meltdown.

TL;DR: Add the ACA as another achievement to Obama’s long game strategy. ‘No Drama Obama’ wins again.