Message to Democrats on winning the U.S. House: this was no mandate. Republican ineptitude handed House control to Democrats, not Democratic superiority.
Just as President Bush deserves Olympic gold for overreaching (he called himself a uniter and governed like a seismic divider) Democrats run the risk of legislating from the extremities and living to regret it.
Democratic candidates who picked up GOP-controlled House seats were centrists, not extremists. As of this writing, five states approved amendments suggesting gay marriages be banned and another five voted to join the roster of states that would require employers to pay higher minimum wages than the federal minimum of $5.15 per hour _ all indications of a centrist electorate, not a liberal one.
Polls show between 20 and 25 percent of the American electorate still self-identify as white evangelical or born-again Christian. Although loyalty to the GOP by that group has narrowed by double-digits since the 2004 elections, they are still among the most powerful and cohesive voting blocs in American politics today.
Message to Democrats: Evangelicals are not going away, although their era of controlling the GOP, shoving aside mainstream, moderate Republicans and governing from the pulpit, seems to have been served up a gut punch on Tuesday.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was a backbench flame-thrower in Congress throughout most of the 1980s. But he organized dispirited Republicans, raised oceans of money, canvassed each congressional district nationwide for new Republican talent and almost miraculously engineered the Republican House takeover of 1994. Few could control the ego trip Gingrich clearly enjoyed by traveling from backbencher to party leader. But if he had kept his ego in check, he might still be in power, instead of out of politics and on the lecture circuit.
Democrats, at least, have not made the mistake of promising voters to enshrine left-wing politics into national law. Gingrich’s Republican majority did just that, via his Contract with America, laughingly referred to as the Contract on America by progressives. Gingrich promised if his party took over Congress, the House would quickly enact a variety of conservative policy changes, stolen almost verbatim from a speech by President Reagan, who “borrowed” them from the conservative Heritage Foundation. With the exception of the balanced budget amendment (which America could have benefited from, given the spendthrift proclivities of President Bush and the current Congress) the contract proposed term limits on members of Congress, tax cuts for business and individuals, social security, welfare and tort reform.
Instead, Democrats took the low-key approach of handing out red, white and blue business-like cards, emblazoned with the logo: “A New Direction for America.” At Pelosi’s Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee victory gala, party faithful were given American flags to wave high. Red, white and blue confetti blanketed the ballroom as Pelosi and others took the podium. Democrats had wizened up and taken a page from Republican organizational textbooks: they wrapped themselves in Old Glory.
Democrats’ ’06 message is a simple, malleable one including cleaning up a corrupt Congress, changing course in Iraq, improving homeland security, boosting economic prosperity, as well as health care insurance accessibility and retirement security.
Soon-to-be Speaker Pelosi has so far handled her ascension to power wisely. During the campaign Republicans painted her as a harridan of mythic proportions, even trying to scare voters into fearing her leadership. Pelosi showed no fear of taking on Republicans in return. Her press releases used the words, “incompetent” and “corrupt” to describe the GOP-controlled White House and Congress. But on Tuesday night she clearly moved toward the center, promising voters and the GOP she would govern in a bipartisan fashion. If she keeps that promise, she could keep her historic post for a very long time.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)