The Democratic Party suffered one of the worst defeats in Congressional history last week, with Republicans taking over the House of Representatives and almost gaining control of the Senate. I hope that the Republicans take it upon themselves to pursue a more centrist, bipartisan agenda in order to get things accomplished over the next two years. Sadly, GOP rhetoric in recent days indicates that we are in for a long and ineffective legislative session filled with political chicanery.
The most disappointing outcome of last week’s election was the further polarization of Congress. The influx of Tea Party members will shift the GOP further to the right, while moderate Democrats across the country were purged last week for supporting historic legislation such as healthcare and the economic stimulus package.
For example, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), who was known for striking bipartisan compromise with Republican legislators, was voted out. Along with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Feingold co-authored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which aimed to regulate corporate financing of political campaigns. The major provisions of the bill were struck down by the Supreme Court last year. Ironically, his opponent Ron Johnson received virtually all of the $4 million that poured into Wisconsin from outside groups.
The Democratic Party must fend off Republican challengers in the next election cycle and regain control of the House of Representatives in order to enact legislation that will solve the most pressing issues of our time like social security, defense spending, energy policy and immigration. In order to accomplish this goal, the party must restructure its leadership, develop a new campaign strategy and refocus on the economy.
While Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been one of the most effective Speakers of the House in recent years, she is ill-suited to remain the leader of the Democratic Party when in the minority. As Speaker, Pelosi was instrumental in making sure that the Democrats used their power while in the majority by tackling healthcare reform, finance reform and passing the economic stimulus. There are always those who highlight what was left on the table, but the current legislative session will rank as one of the most influential in American history.
Unfortunately, Pelosi remains a controversial figure who is an easy target for criticism and whose rhetoric repels independent votes. By necessity, the Speaker of the House is a polarizing figure who is responsible for marching forward the party’s agenda. On the other hand, the Minority Leader must be able to stand up to the majority on controversial issues and remain willing to reach across the aisle. Pelosi does not fit into this role in the eye of the public.
Democrats must also craft a more cohesive national campaign strategy. Among other things, a poor campaign strategy was to blame for the magnitude of the loss in last week’s elections. Instead of standing behind their achievements, Democrats chose to distance themselves from one another, fragmenting their message and allowing the Republican agenda to conquer the news cycle.
Finally, the White House must show more forceful leadership in restoring the American economy. While the economy has seen some job growth over the past few months, the persistent unemployment rate does not bode well for Democrats’ future. Fortunately for the White House, it does not seem as though the Republicans have much of a plan on how to fix the economy. Shortly before the election, John Boehner (R-OH) released what he called the Pledge to America, which was nothing more than a gilded book filled with age-old Republican talking points on the economy.
Lastly, members of the House of Representatives must avoid getting into quarrels with Republicans who try to repeal past legislation. Legislative majorities come and go, but the laws that were enacted during the previous legislative session are here to stay.
How many Republicans would really rally to allow health insurers to rescind coverage when they discover that their patient had a pre-existing coverage? The likelihood that the GOP will repeal anything while there is a Democratic President and Senate is low.
It’s imperative that Democrats turn the momentum against the Republicans if America hopes to move forward in the 21st century. It is imperative that they reinvent themselves in order to regain the public trust.