2014 Election: A “Fie on Both of You” Mandate

IMG_0127The 2014 midterm elections produced a mandate, but not for the victorious Republicans or for a particular policy agenda. The mandate (by a 64% majority) was an electoral repudiation of American politics. The women and men elected to the 114th Congress received a slim majority of a minority of eligible voters, and that does not constitute a governing coalition.

Americans are generally disgusted with both parties: President Barack Obama’s approval rating is around 40%; the Congress sits at 14%; the Republican Party has a 42% approval and the Democrats are at an all time low of 36%. It is clearly an opprobrious “fie on both of you” mandate.

The 2014 Republican candidates promised a simple agenda: repeal anything supported by Obama, cut corporate taxes, abolish what they term “job killing” environmental and safety regulations, repeal laws that regulate business, and rip apart the safety net. The Democrats, on the other hand, did not offer an agenda.

No Vision, No Courage

As a liberal Democrat I am disgusted with my party’s lack of vision and courage. Our candidates gave the non-voting 64% nothing to be excited about and they ran away from the accomplishments of the last six years. They allowed their opponents to define the election as the trial of a “failed president.”

Failed president? Since Obama took office the economy has reversed course. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has sored from 7,949 to an all-time high of over 17,000; unemployment has decreased from 7.8% to less than 5.8%; GDP growth has climbed from a minus 5.4% to a plus 3.5%; the deficit as a percent of GDP has decreased from 9.8% when Obama took office to 2.8% today; and consumer confidence has risen from under 40% to above 90%.

The United States is adding 200,000 new jobs a month, inflation and interest rates are low, and America is fast becoming energy self-sufficient. Health care is now a realistic opportunity for millions of Americans, laws are in place to protect the nation from another financial meltdown, and the looming threats of climate change are getting serious executive attention.

According to The Economist, “American firms dominate rankings of the world’s most valuable companies for the first time in a decade and a half…Profits are at their highest level relative to national income since the 1960s…The pay of an S&P 500 chief is up 43% since 2009 and non-financial firms made $885 billion of profits

Unbalanced Progress

America is making progress–––making progress despite brutal headwinds blowing from the right side of the political spectrum. But the progress is lopsided: while those at the top of the pyramid are prospering, the stagnation of wages and the decline of good jobs for many middleclass Americans persists. According to the Federal Reserve, the earnings of the bottom 90% of Americans actually fell between 2010 and 2013 when adjusted for inflation.

Republicans beat back every attempt to address growing income disparity in America by ignoring the issue and chanting the mantra “class warfare” every time it was raised. Democrats seemed afraid of the issue, and during the campaign they avoided anything that could be associated with Obama, such as raising the federal minimum wage.

That makes no sense to me. I don’t believe President Obama is perfect. He hasn’t done a good job of defining his agenda in a way that relates to the American people. He hasn’t cultivated trusting relationships with Washington’s social and political elite. I applaud his deliberate process for making decisions about committing American forces abroad, but I do not agree with some of his conclusions.

I dismiss the argument that he should work harder to massage the egos of congressional leaders. No matter what he does or says, he is not going to move the Republicans toward his position. They have a single-minded agenda: Make sure the presidency of Barack Obama is perceived as a failure. Block anything–––no matter the benefit to the American people–––that might give him some credit.

Playing Prevent Defense

Republicans do not see him not as a president who commanded decisive majorities in two elections, but as an imposter who is a threat to their ideology. Obama did a poor job of defending himself against their attacks, often appearing aloof and above the fray.

To borrow a football analogy, Democrats played “prevent defense” in 2014 instead of aggressive offense and it cost the party and the country dearly. Those who will run again in 2016 ought to check out the playbook of one Democratic senator who took the opposite tack, Al Franken.

Senator Franken was elected in 2008, winning by 312 votes. This year he didn’t join the herd of Democrats who were running away from Obama and away from a progressive agenda; rather, he embraced them and ran on the firm foundation of six years of progress— and he won by 10 percentage points. There is a lesson here that Democrats running in 2016 ought to heed, or they will begin to lose loyalists like me.