Democrats Find Lessons In GOP Reign: New Majority Is Mindful Of Rivals’ Mistakes, Successes (Jonathan Weisman, 11/12/06, Washington Post)

Democrats preparing to take control of Congress for the first time in over a decade are looking to the Republican takeover in 1995 as an object lesson of what to emulate and what to avoid. They hope to match the legislative energy of the Newt Gingrich era while avoiding at all costs the partisan pitfalls that eventually soured voters on the GOP.

The majority party that takes control of the House and Senate in January will look significantly different from the party that was swept from power in the 1994 elections. The old-guard liberals and staunch union supporters in control then are giving way to a new generation of moderates with more temperate legislative ambitions.

Democrats last week picked up six seats in the Senate and at least 28 seats in the House en route to victory. Eleven of those House districts were solidly Republican in the 2004 presidential election, while new Democratic senators from Montana, Missouri, Virginia and Ohio will have to be mindful of their traditionally Republican constituents.

Newt Gingrich is rightly criticized for a big mouth and the morals of a tomcat, but the fact remains that not only did the GOP takeover force Bill Clinton to govern from the Right but the party held its majority for twelve years and elected the next president even as it pushed radical positions. The reality for Democrats is that they now hold 58 House seats in districts that George W. Bush carried and which can easily be won back by Republicans in the McCain/Hillary blowout. Meanwhile, for the same reasons that W couldn’t pass SS Reform and Gingrich couldn’t pass Medicare reform, there is little chance of Democrats getting much past 49 GOP Senators and a Republican President. The choice that confronts them is whether to simply go for being a party of good government, ditching their ideological base, and passing major Third Way reforms during the brief moment when they can influence their final form. One wouldn’t want to bet on them taking that path.

Incoming Democrats Put Populism Before Ideology (ROBIN TONER and KATE ZERNIKE, 11/11/06, NY Times)

[I]n interviews with nearly half of them this week, the freshmen — 41 in the House and 9 in the Senate, including one independent — conveyed a keen sense of their own moment in history, and a distinct world view: they say they were given a rare opportunity by voters, many of them independents and Republicans, who were tired of the partisanship and gridlock in Washington.

Now, they say, they have to produce — to deal with long-festering problems like access to affordable health care and the loss of manufacturing jobs, and to find a bipartisan consensus for an exit strategy in Iraq, a source of continuing division not only between but also within the parties.

Many of them say they must also, somehow, find a way to address the growing anxiety among voters about a global economy that no longer seems to work for them. There is a strong populist tinge to this class.

In general, they set themselves an extraordinary (political veterans might say impossible) task: to avoid the ideological wars that have so dominated Congress in recent years, to be pragmatists, and to change the tone in Washington after a sharply partisan campaign. […]

any of these freshmen Democrats are hard to pigeonhole ideologically. Even among the most socially conservative, there is a strong streak of economic populism that is a unifying force.

Heath Shuler, for example, the former professional football player and newly elected House Democrat from North Carolina, is anti-abortion and pro-gun, but sounds like an old-style Democrat on economic issues.

“I was taught at a very, very young age about faith and personal responsibility, and through that, that responsibility was about helping those who cannot help themselves,” Mr. Shuler said. “If you look at what the Democratic Party stands for, it is about helping others who can’t help themselves.”

Like other Democrats, he supports legislation to increase the minimum wage and make college tuition tax deductible. He also opposes trade agreements that he says have led to a 78 percent loss in textile industry jobs in his state.

Similarly, Ms. Boyda of Kansas, a first-time office holder who relied on lengthy newspaper inserts to make her case to the voters, said, “The rural economy has been left out.” She added: “A lot of my district feels a great deal of insecurity about their jobs, their health care, their business, their family farm. They feel like they’re just kind of hanging out there.”

Carol Shea-Porter, a social worker and new House member from New Hampshire who considers herself a populist, said, “The theme of my campaign was, I’m running for the rest of us.” She added that no matter how much the Bush administration boasted of job growth, her voters “understood those were Wal-Mart jobs.” And, she said, “They understood when they talked about the stock market boom, that half of Americans aren’t even in the stock market.”

Jim Webb, who defeated Senator George Allen of Virginia, campaigned heavily on the idea that the middle class was increasingly at risk in an age of growing inequality. Bob Casey, who overwhelmingly defeated Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, said he looked forward to “a really intensive focus on health care that I hope to be a part of.”

That economic populism extends, for many candidates, to a new emphasis on expanding health coverage. Congressional Democrats who lived through the Clinton administration’s failed effort to create a national health insurance plan, which many believe was a crucial factor in the Democrats’ losses in 1994, have been wary of broad health legislation for years. (And being in the minority, they were unable to do much about it, regardless.) But the class of ’06 is adamant that something major can, and will, be done.

Dave Loebsack, a political science professor in Iowa who unseated the veteran Republican moderate, Representative Jim Leach, said he intended to sign on to proposed legislation to create a single-payer, national health insurance program “as one of the first things I will do when I get to Congress.”

Reactionary Moderates (RAMESH PONNURU, 11/12/06, NY Times)

The real message of the last few elections is that, for the most part, social issues help the Republicans and economic ones the Democrats. Did talking about energy policy, and keeping quiet about gay marriage, help Senator George Allen of Virginia survive Jim Webb’s challenge?

The lesson for the Democrats, meanwhile, is not that they all need to move right on social issues. It is that they can be a lasting majority if they are an economically liberal party with socially conservative and socially liberal wings. Because if they choose to be a socially liberal party with economically liberal and economically conservative wings, they will soon find themselves back in minority status.

The Republicans, meanwhile, can prosper if they can find ways to address the economic concerns of working-class cultural conservatives — many of them unmoved by free-market bromides — without doing violence to their own limited-government principles.

I agree with the economic conservatives on most issues, and disagree with the social conservatives on some, so I’m not entirely happy about the electoral reality I’m describing. (I wish Colorado and Nevada had voted the other way on marijuana, for instance.) But there it is nonetheless. While both social conservatives and Republicans need to make some changes, a divorce isn’t on the table, and there’s no political reason one should be.

Here’s a dirty little secret of the conservatives: the WTO is more important than national sovereignty because it can force free trade measures that couldn’t pass Congress.


  1. Bob says:

    Free trade has led to 20 years of unmatched prosperity. So, naturally it should be ended.

    Shuler was better as a failed NFL QB. If you make college tuition deductable, it just makes it go up even faster.
    Perhaps he thinks the West Wing was a documentary.

    Tuition is high because there is so much money around that the colleges every single year increase tuition
    5% or more. The costs of course can’t possibly go up so much or so regularly. The thing to do is for economic
    “populists” at the state level to just freeze state college tuition for say 4 years and limit it to cost of
    living increases afterwards. This will eventually force all non-Ivy schools to be more moderate in their pigginess.

    I think we wil find zero decrease in educational quality.

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