Anticipating dismaying election results, the media downplayed the races as much ado about “nothing.” But historians will certainly find meaning in them. It will no doubt strike them as staggering that a president as “historic” and celebrated as Obama found himself a political orphan in his second term, with some Democrats refusing to disclose whether or not they even voted for him.
Obama rose to prominence in 2004 by casting himself as a transcendent figure who could turn red states blue. He didn’t believe in “blue states or “red states” but in the “United States of America.” He is no longer speaking in those terms. On election day this year, in a preemptive attempt to reject the coming defeat as a repudiation of his presidency, he spoke of the intractability of red states.
“There’s no doubt that, when you look at the Senate races, because of the fact only a third of the Senate is up at any given time, it tends to be a little bit arbitrary which seats are really going to be contested and which aren’t,” he told the press. “So, for example, in this election cycle, this is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower.”
He overlooked Democratic troubles in Iowa and Colorado, states which hardly qualify as red. The Republican Senate victory in Colorado, where in 2008 he unveiled his hope-and-change rhetoric, is a measure of his wilting legacy.
Earlier in the campaign Obama had said that his “policies” were on the ballot, “every single one of them.” Democratic candidates winced at the remark. He “is not relevant,” pronounced Democratic Alaska Senator Mark Begich. Even Virginia, a state Obama won handily, proved surprisingly competitive this year, another measure of his disappointing presidency.
In 2008, Obama mused that he might become the liberal Reagan, envying Reagan’s impact on the “trajectory” of the country, an impact that eclipsed such presidents as Bill Clinton. These days Obama probably envies Clinton’s legacy. Candidates shunned Obama while embracing the Clintons. Some of the candidates, running scared from Obama’s policies, sounded ready to revive the quasi-conservative Democratic Leadership Council which Clinton had once made famous.
It turned out, as Rand Paul pointed out, that the Clintons weren’t all that helpful, though it appears Hillary did help take out a fellow carpet-bagger in New Hampshire. Pundits at MSNBC, who approved of Hillary’s audacious move to New York for a Senate seat, chortled over the announcement of Scott Brown’s defeat, suggesting that he might move to Maine next.
Typically, the media counseled the victorious Republicans to exclude from “governance” those figures who had understood the meaning of Obama’s policies long before others. Tom Brokaw, setting the tone earlier in the day, said that the onus is on the Republicans to ignore Ted Cruz, Paul, and other conservative senators and move leftward: “The question then is, what are they prepared to give to the Democrats to meet them in the middle ground? What are they going to do about immigration? What are they going to do about the minimum wage?”
So even as the American people make it clear that they don’t want Obama’s policies implemented, the media still insists that the Republicans serve as his assistants. That constitutes “leadership.” But colluding in bad policies isn’t good governance or good politics. Republicans should focus not on “breaking gridlock” at all costs but on passing sound bills and exposing Obama’s abuse of power.
Of course, liberal pundits will cheer themselves up with the hope that such an “uncompromising” Republican Senate would make it easy for Hillary to win two years from now. According to their convenient calculations, flexibility is good politics for the Republicans but bad politics for the Democrats, whom they had no problem criticizing this year for separating themselves from liberal policies. Not even a defeat like this one convinces the liberal media to call for a “big tent” in the Democratic Party.
Should a Republican Senate pass a raft of bills that the liberals refuse to support and Obama vetoes, don’t expect the media to call them the “party of no.” If anything, the media will demand that the Democrats stick to their guns. Journalistic pleas for gridlock-breaking compromise only fall on one party.