My head is spinning from the massive post-election spin regarding who is responsible for the GOP victory. On the right, Karl Rove is taking credit for intervening in the primaries to “protect” the GOP from fielding “unelectable” candidates in the general election. Tea Partiers are taking credit for turning out and holding their collective noses to vote for moderate candidates who were not good but were the lesser of two evils. Erick Erickson made some great points, one of which was that Barack Obama’s voters only turn out if he is on the ballot but will not turn out for other Democrats. And on the left, where the spinning is actually quite funny, the headlines on Yahoo exclaim “How Hillary Clinton won the 2014 Midterms” and “Obama Says He Sees ‘Worst Possible’ Senate Map Since Eisenhower.”
All of the above deserve some partial credit, except for the Clinton nonsense, but they do not hit on what I believe is the most important point—the GOP did not win as much as the Democrats lost because the Democrats proudly shoved big government down America’s throat in an unprecedented grab of federal power and, after doing so, proceeded to abuse that power and run that big government like a bunch of incompetent, dishonest, and party-protecting buffoons. That combination is a terrible political strategy, and if the vote last night was a repudiation of bad, dishonest, and overly-partisan government, the GOP should proceed with caution and not overplay its hand. Not being Obama was a gift last night, but it is not a sustainable long-term political strategy.
Let’s recap: If people count on the government to protect them from deadly diseases like Ebola, and the government refuses to stop infected patients from entering the country, let alone quarantine them, there will be electoral consequences (and the GOP should send a thank-you note to Kaci Hickox).
If people count on the government to protect them from terrorists, and the government admits that it has no strategy for ISIS, blames an ambassador’s death on a YouTube video after refusing the ambassador’s pleas for extra security; or, if people see other innocent people beheaded in Oklahoma or attacked with an axe on the streets of New York, there will be electoral consequences.
If the government promises to protect our borders, and then not only fails to do so but spends money to advertise in foreign cities that free government food stamps are available to those who can manage to arrive here illegally – and people see thousands of unaccompanied foreign minors crossing our borders to overcrowded border camps, with no clear penalty or deportation – there will be electoral consequences (just ask [mc_name name=’Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001046′ ]).
If the government promises to take care of its military veterans and their health care needs, and then veterans die while placed on an inexcusable waiting list for care, there will be electoral consequences.
If people count on the government to ensure free and fair elections, and then see the IRS abuse its draconian authority by targeting political opponents, and then later an IRS leader exercises her Fifth Amendment rights, or the IRS claims that certain IRS computers crashed and hard drives were accidentally destroyed – or people see [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ] attempt to revise the First Amendment to restrict freedom of speech for the sole purpose of winning elections for his party – or people see the Justice Department refuse to conduct a meaningful investigation or appoint an independent investigator, there will be electoral consequences.
If the government abuses the credibility of the U.S. dollar by printing trillions of additional dollars to fund the activities of an incompetent and dishonest government, thereby reducing the true value of every dollar held by the voters, there will be electoral consequences.
If people count on the government to let them keep their doctor or health insurance, and the government either lies or fails in that endeavor, there will be electoral consequences.
Are you seeing my thesis here? There really was no way for the Democrats to survive what really has been one scandal after another. As each scandal surfaced publicly, the American people witnessed President Obama standing at a microphone, claiming he was just learning about it from the media at the same time as us (even though it took place in his administration), and vowing that such behavior was unacceptable and that people would be held accountable. But as we all know, no one was ever held accountable, until last night, when the American people decided to hold the President and much of his party accountable. Some voters likely thought: “I can put up with the morons in government dictating the kind of light bulbs I have to use, but if they screw up on something like Ebola, I could be dead.” Those are some high stakes to trust with an incompetent and dishonest government.
And it doesn’t really matter if the backlash was caused by incompetence, dishonesty, partisan politics, or some combination of the above because the end result is bad service to the people paying for it – which was especially damaging to a Democrat party that has always bragged about how the government is so much fairer, better, and more efficient than the evil private sector and free market. The lasting legacy of [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ] as majority leader of the Senate will be his fear to bring bills to the Senate floor for a vote because doing so might hurt his party in the next election. But let me be clear, I really don’t think last night was an indictment of all government, just an indictment of an incompetent and dishonest government, of one that abused its power by becoming detached from its Constitution and founding principles, and of one where the needs of the political party in power were put ahead of the country’s needs. Most of us want and even need our government to be good at providing crucial services like protecting us from epidemics, terrorists, and enemies; protecting our nation’s borders and currency; and ensuring free and fair elections—as long as it remains within that constitutional framework.
So forgive me if I am not buying last night as a GOP victory. As for Hillary’s so-called victory, that would entail a complete loss of memory regarding the absolute pounding taken by the candidates Hillary Clinton stumped for across the country. To be clear, she proudly campaigned for the losing Senate candidates in Arkansas, Kentucky, Iowa, Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina, and the losing candidates for Governor in reliably blue states like Maryland, Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts and Maine, and pivotal battleground states like Florida, Wisconsin and Iowa. That’s even worse than Karl Rove’s record in 2008 and 2012!
And if the GOP wants to win in 2016, they should start by avoiding the same mistakes of the last group in power. The last thing our country needs is for the GOP Senate to emulate the Senate led by [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ]. Instead, the GOP needs to act with the honesty and integrity that has been missing from the nation’s capital for way too long. If something needs to be fixed and it will be painful in the short run, explain that to the American people and proceed to get their support in making any necessary sacrifices. They need to focus almost exclusively on fixing and eliminating the broken or unnecessary parts of the government instead of growing it with simply a “differently branded” governmental power grab. Most importantly, they need to focus on the economy and jobs, by enacting some “low-hanging fruit” legislation where there might be post-election bipartisan support, such as corporate tax reform or approving the pipeline. And if they can prove themselves worthy by doing the above, eventually they might get the support to pass really meaningful reform, like a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution or returning our nation’s currency to something based on reality, instead of discredited Keynesian fantasies.
Dave Beltrami is a lawyer and political analyst living in Atlanta, Georgia. He received his Juris Doctor and Master of Laws (Taxation) degrees from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.