On The Cusp Of A Change

The old, tired year 2010 is getting ready to exit stage right, and the bright, shiny year 2011 is getting ready to crawl onto the national stage.  Today we will get the last of the stories looking back at what has happened over the last 12 months.  Tomorrow the focus will be on what might happen over the next 12 months.

On the national scene, there is a lot of uncertainty, which should make 2011 very interesting indeed.  President Obama had a tough 2010, with falling public approval ratings, a bad economy, and mounting public concern about spending and debt, and the Democratic Party took a shellacking in the 2010 election as a result.  But the President nevertheless managed to accomplish some of his initiatives in the lame duck session of Congress, leading some people to talk about a comeback.  In 2011, will we in fact see a comeback by the President and a resurgence of some of the passionate support he received in the 2008 election?

In Congress, the big story will be the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the increased Republican minority in the Senate.  In the past two years, House Republicans have been unified in opposing many of the President’s initiatives, but maintaining unity when you are running the show can be more difficult.  How will the new Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans address spending and debt issues, and will they be able to affect the implementation of the “health care reform” legislation and some of the regulatory initiatives that are of such concern to members of the “tea party”?  In the Senate, where the rules and practices require consensus, how will Harry Reid and his slimmer majority deal with Republicans?  Will the two Houses of Congress, controlled by two different parties, be able to reach agreement on their competing versions of basic legislation like spending bills?  And will President Obama then wield his veto pen?

Pundits may be predicting what will happen, but the reality is that no one knows.  That is what will make 2011 such an interesting year.

Advertisements

Not Dead Yet

The political pundits are dissecting the results of the 2010 election and pontificating about President Obama and his future.  The pundits always seem to grossly overreact to the results of an election, however.  After the 2008 election, many people were shoveling dirt on the Republican Party, arguing that it would be relegated to permanent minority status.  Hey, how did that prediction turn out?

The overreaction to the 2010 election is similar.  We have some Democrats arguing that President Obama should declare that he will not seek reelection, so that he can better deal with our pressing problems.  (It’s hard for me to understand how a voluntary lame duck President would be better situated to get things done, but maybe I just don’t understand politics.)  I think such talk is silly.  For now, at least, we should presume that President Obama is a smart, capable politician who can figure out which way the wind is blowing.  He will make adjustments.  (In fact, Obama Administration officials have been doing some navel-gazing and considering how they can re-energize this presidency and rebuild the coalition that got President Obama elected in the first place.)

In the meantime, the current storyline reminds me of this classic scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Like the unfortunate old man in the mud-spattered village, President Obama isn’t dead yet.

Madly, And Badly, Spinning

Sometimes I wish politicians would just shut up during the days immediately after elections have been held.  They should let the country digest the results and enjoy a few days of peace and quiet after the appalling orgy of political spending and political ads that makes the days just before the election a disgusting spectacle.

Unfortunately, politicians don’t take this advice.  They can’t help themselves.  They just have to issue a press release, send out an e-mail, or appear before the cameras to advance the “messaging” and “spin” that the party bosses have decided must be the post-election party line.

So it has been with this election.  Yesterday and today I have heard a number of Democrats — including Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and outgoing Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, among others — voice the view that this election, in which the Democrats were pulverized in the House, the Senate, and statehouses across the country, was not a rejection of the policies of the Obama Administration and its allies.  Instead, they say it was just the apparently random thrashings of an angry electorate that was frustrated because the change the President and Democrats have begun is not moving fast enough.

Do these politicians really think about the absurdity of this spin before they propound it?  In this case, it is grossly insulting that they apparently believe such ludicrous spin could be swallowed by a gullible populace.  At bottom, their theory is that voters impatient with the slow pace of President Obama’s agenda went to the voting booth — and then voted for Republican after Republican who not only did not promise to speed up the President’s agenda, but instead promised to resist and repeal it.  Does that scenario seem remotely plausible to anyone other than the spinmeisters at national Democratic Party headquarters?

This kind of over-the-top “messaging” just reflects contempt for the intelligence of the American voter.  I think it is one of the reasons why so many Americans voted to throw the bums out only two days ago.

An Ohio Sweep And A National Message

Although there are still some races that are too close to call, the general outlines of the 2010 election are clear. It was a bad night for Democrats at the hands of voters who wanted to send a message — and did.

In Ohio, the entire slate of statewide offices went RepublicanJohn Kasich ousted Governor Ted Strickland in a very close contest.  I think Strickland was generally perceived to be a good man who was caught up in larger forces not of his making, and the fact that the contest was as close as it was reflected that.  Now Kasich will need to grapple with the state’s pressing budget issues.  The Republican sweep means that Republicans will control the state redistricting process and also means that other capable officeholders, such as Attorney General Richard Cordray, will be leaving office.

In federal races, the results in Ohio mirrored those in America as a whole.  The Republicans handily won the race for the U.S. Senate seat in Ohio and knocked off a number of Democratic incumbents in contests for seats in the House of Representatives.  Nationally, the Republicans picked up at least six Senate seats and 60 House seats.  Although some Democratic Senators, like Majority Leader Harry Reid, managed to hold on to their seats, a series of long-time Democratic Representatives went down to defeat.

The voters have served their message to their representatives, and the ball is now in President Obama’s court.  He will begin to respond at a press conference today, although the real test will come when the talking ends and the governing begins — and that includes the decisions that are made in any post-election, “lame duck” session of the current Congress.

I hope the President avoids the temptation to rationalize the results as a reflection of a “know-nothing” electorate or to blame the results on economic conditions caused by others and instead sincerely accepts the undeniable fact that American voters are not happy with the direction in which the President is steering this country and want him to change course.   They think he has overreached.  His challenge now will be to find areas of common ground with the voters and members of Congress who are worried about overspending, explosive growth in our national debt, and intrusive government.

Kilroy Was Here

ABC News is calling the 15th District here in Ohio for Republican Steve Stivers over incumbent Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy.  With 92 percent of the precincts reporting, Stivers leads Kilroy, 54 percent to 41 percent.

Kilroy, who was swept in to office with the Obama win in 2008, was a faithful proponent of the “health care reform” legislation and the House Democratic agenda.  She was also one of UJ’s favorites.

This is another race where a post mortem would be instructive.  In 2008, Kilroy won with a 2300-vote margin, but there were many more votes cast in 2008 than in 2010.  In fact, Stivers received fewer votes in 2010 than he did in his losing campaign in 2010.  In view of that, you have to wonder how much of Kilroy’s defeat was due to the “enthusiasm gap” and the lack of turnout by her core constituency.

ABC also has called the race in our district, the 12th, and has concluded that Republican Pat Tiberi will be returned to Congress.

Empty Space

One of the bellwether U.S House races in Ohio in this election was District 18, where incumbent Democrat Zack Space faced a stiff challenge from Republican Bob Gibbs.

The 18th is a big, sprawling district just to the east of us, so ads for the race were run on some of the Columbus TV stations.  The negative ads — which was about all we saw — depicted Gibbs as a job-killer who wanted to outsource jobs to China, whereas Space was portrayed as a Nancy Pelosi clone.

The race has now been called in favor of Gibbs, who leads by a surprisingly large 14 percentage point margin with 92 percent of the votes counted.  This race will be well worth reviewing in retrospect, to see what motivated the voters to turn on Space to such an extent.  I suspect that the economy and government spending will be cited by most voters as the key reasons for their decision.

Ohio, The Swing State

As the night progresses, we’ve seen significant swings in the Ohio Governor’s race.  In early returns, Republican John Kasich led, then incumbent Democratic Governor Ted Strickland surged into the lead, and now Kasich has moved into a slight lead.

In Ohio, the issue of where the votes have been counted can be highly significant.  Although Ohio, as a whole, is a swing state, the Buckeye State really is a bunch of enclaves.  When you consider interim statewide results, you must consider whether it is Democratic strongholds that been counted or Republican areas that have been tallied first.

Here in central Ohio, the Stivers-Kilroy case in the 15th District has not been called, although Stivers has a significant lead with more than half of the votes counted.  In our district, the 12th, about a third of the votes have been counted and Republican incumbent Pat Tiberi has a surprisingly small lead over Democratic challenger Paula Brooks.

As of 10:20 p.m. Eastern time, there is still a lot to be decided.