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In the glow surrounding Barack Obama’s election to become the 44th President of the United States, strategist James Carville boasted that that the Democrats would be the majority party in government for a generation. Less than two years later, Democrats appear all but likely to lose control of the House of Representatives and suffer significant losses in the Senate when voters head to the polls on Tuesday. This reversal of fortune is the result of an overreach by the White House and Congressional leaders along with a healthy dose of arrogance.
By and large, the President and his team in Congress blew it; they were elected in 2008 to curb rising unemployment and an unstable economy. Instead, Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid spent a year wrangling with health care reform, cap and trade and other unpopular measures. When the public asked their leaders to put the brakes on these measures they were ignored and rebuffed, sparking the rise of the Tea Party and their brew of discontent with the size and scope of government.
Meanwhile, President Obama and Vice President Biden repeatedly told the public to support their $800 billion stimulus package as would stimulate job growth due to thousands of “shovel ready” projects that would put people back to work. The President informed us just two weeks ago that there was no such thing as a shovel ready job — an admission that has surely thrown many Democrats running for re-election under the bus as Obama drives on and focuses his attention on his own re-election in 2012.
As for health care, Speaker Pelosi infamously told that public that the Congress needed to pass the health care “reform” bill first so that people could see what was in the package later. After many promises that the legislation would lower costs, allow people to remain with their doctor and insurer while lowering the deficit, none of these assertions have come to fruition. In fact, thousands of Americans have seen their health premiums soar while many others have lost their coverage or faced reductions in their benefits.
As these battles raged on, President Obama diminished his office by picking winners and losers in his political universe — calling out the U.S. Chamber of Congress for allegedly funneling foreign money to be spent in the current election cycle. When news outlets such as the New York Times questioned the President’s assertions as having little merit, Obama only turned up the heat on his rhetoric. When it was revealed that labor unions have spent more money than any other entity during this election cycle without revealing the source of the funds, the President turned his attention elsewhere. Most recently, the President implored Hispanics to “punish our enemies” while rewarding their friends. Somehow lost in the struggle to maintain Democratic majorities in the Congress, President Obama has forgotten that he is the President of the United States, not of the Democratic Party or labor unions.
After being given the keys to the car of government two years ago, Democrats have driven themselves and their governing majority into a ditch. Rather than tackling high unemployment and unstable economic conditions, they focused their attention on fulfilling their wish list of projects and programs to complete the Great Society envisioned by President Johnson in the 1960s. With a stimulus that has failed and health care reform a verboten phrase on the campaign trail, Democrats seeking re-election have little to run on while many have sought to distance themselves from the President, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid.
As a result, Democrats’ chickens have come home to roost — the question now is how President Obama will govern with a likely Republican controlled House and narrow Democratic majority in the Senate. Will he adroitly pivot to the center like former President Bill Clinton did in 1995 or will he continue to push for a progressive agenda that has squandered his governing majority?
Ron Christie is Founder and CEO of Christie Strategies LLC, a full-service communications and issues management firm in Washington, D.C. A former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Christie is the author of the just published book, Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books).