The gridlock that seems to have enveloped Washington D.C. in the two years since Barack Obama was elected has come to define the country in this first decade of the 21st century.
Such ephemeral nonsense as demands for the president’s birth certificate, hidden holds by anonymous senators on presidential nominees, and John McCain’s colossal flip/flop on undocumented immigrants are in themselves enough to cause a person to lose faith in the legislative process.
The pundits on the right are already writing the president’s political epitaph, gleeful as they are over the power changes in Congress. Indeed they are all sure that things will go their way, with the GOP claiming that “the American people” have spoken.
But such simplistic analysis ignores the evidence of history: Presidential parties typically lose ground in mid-term elections. It was the case with Bill Clinton, also with Ronald Reagan. The truth is, there really is no unilateral “voice of the American people”; rather there is a steadily shifting center of political gravity that swings, pendulum-like, across the vast middle ground between the political right and left.
And even as the chattering class predicted nothing would be accomplished in the “lame duck” nine weeks between the Nov 2 election and January’s new Congress, the reality was quite different, as the Democrats rallied around the White House to pass one after another significant change into law.
The Republicans, content to foster a near-unanimous inertia (“ The Party of No!)” these past 24 months, must struggle with the reality that, now a majority in the House, they have to learn to govern. And these next 24 months will enable the Democrats to regroup, re-charge and, in a Palin-esque word, re-load.
Boston’s John Cullinane feels confident that his party will have some success in the coming years. He explains: “Recently, I met with the Democratic House Leadership regarding their plans to win back the House in 2012. I came away quite optimistic that they can do it.
“One reason is that the leadership has put together an outstanding team which is open to new ideas. Second, as Congressman Ed Markey said, the spotlight will be on the House Republicans and Tea Party members over the next two years and that’s going to help because people may say they don’t like government but they sure like what government does for them.
“Third, the 111th Congress had an outstanding record of accomplishment despite the fact that the Republicans took a walk at a time of great national crisis in order to play political games with America’s future.”
Cullinane says that Democratic supporters must learn how to claim credit for their legislative accomplishments, and there have been many of them in the last two years.
“It’s really very impressive in terms of the number of bills that were signed into law, despite all the Republican opposition,” he says. “As such, it’s a perfect ‘get out the message’ piece, and we can’t start soon enough. The key is broadcasting it to all your friends and acquaintances with your personal take on things. This will be very effective if followed with other pieces over the next two years, on a regular basis. If we do, by 2012 America will recognize it made a big mistake when it gave control of the House to the Republicans.”
Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley called the 111th “probably the most productive session of Congress since at least the ‘60s.” Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “The 111th Congress is going to go down as one of the most productive in terms of its legislative accomplishments, their sweep and scope and breadth, certainly in our lifetimes, and probably within the 20th century.”
Simply put, writes Cullinane, the Democratic message is this:
“In the 111th Congress, Democrats worked to move America forward, create jobs, and end the Bush recession – the worst economy in 60 years. We have fought for Americans who work for a living—in the face of relentless opposition by Wall Street, Big Oil, and the health insurance industry, led in Congress by Republicans. Despite GOP opposition, we produced landmark achievements for the middle class in job creation, small business tax cuts, health care, Wall Street reform, veterans’ health care, and child nutrition. We are proud of our record.”
– Ed Forry