This morning's Rasmussen Reports indicates the first post-election polling on what they call the "generic congressional ballot". It is a poll which asks voters if they would vote today for an unnamed (generic) democrat or republican for Congress in their district. Prior to the election, democrats held a six point advantage in this poll. Today, that advantage has dwindled to two points. Why?
In the week since election results have been published, many people have heard and read media reports about the new, larger democratic majorities in the US House and Senate. In particular, much attention has been focused on the Senate, where a "super majority" of 60 members from one party can theoretically do whatever it pleases, having achieved the number of votes it takes to prevent a filibuster. The concern regarding this has been amplified by right-wing media and is being sounded daily here in Georgia in ads being run by Senator Chambliss in the lead-up to his runoff election with Jim Martin.
I met this morning with a person who is quite concerned about this issue. Having voted for Senator McCain, he was understandably cautious about what the incoming President might do. What he did not focus on, however, was what the two parties have come to stand for in recent years. In reality, it isn't easy to even know what they stand for unless a person spends a significant amount of energy digesting and analyzing the news and discerning outlying opinions from mainstream ones.
What the Republican party has frequently stood up for in recent years is unbridled executive authority (see also "warrantless wiretapping") ,the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war and an economic philosophy based on the belief that free markets will always surpass the economic performance of regulated ones and, further, that watching out for high net-worth individuals and large corporations is, ultimately, good for everyone.
The Democrats have frequently stood for ending the Iraq war because of its flawed origin, of defending the constitution (but often in fuzzy, non-compelling terms) and in opposing pretty much anything that the Republicans want to do. Only since the 2008 primary season kicked off in earnest have democrats begun to articulate a vision with more substance.
In the aftermath of the 2008 elections, both parties need to do a better job of deciding and then consistantly expressing what they are FOR and how that translates into the lives of real people, rather than generic ("millions of jobs" or "country first") terms.
Care for a suggestion? Republicans - stop trying to resurrect Ronald Reagan and the 80's. We're sooo over that "government is always bad" mentality. It's a losing formula just as it was in 1932 when FDR was inaugurated. Instead, look at how limited government and private partnerships can provide real solutions to 21st century problems like global warming, global trade, inequality of work force and environmental protection and the challenges of terrorism in a world where we are not the only country with a stake in the outcome.
Democrats? Enjoy the victory for about one more day and then forget it. While President-Elect Obama has a mandate of sorts, there was no overriding congressional mandate articulated during the election cycle that turned this into a "national" election rather than a state by state or district by district one with the exception of a general repudiation of the Bush Administration. In other words, democrats did not completely sell a philosophy to the American people that has now been embraced by the electorate. They did not convince the public of a better approach to the role of government in anything close to specific terms. To believe otherwise will lead to significant over-reaching and a likely losing 2010 mid-term cycle.
No matter what else happens, the days of democrats as pure tax and spend liberals or of republicans as social and fiscal conservatives is gone - at least for now.