Election day 2009 was a very good time to be a moderately conservative Republican promising to restrain government spending and to get needed things done without making bigger government the solution of first choice. It was not a good day to be a Democrat linked with Washington’s biggest problem — politicians who promise one thing, but then do something else entirely.
After less than a year in office, President Barack Obama is well on his way to becoming emblematic of Washington double-talk. On the 2008 campaign trail, he promised a “net federal spending cut” and “a tax cut for 95 percent of America’s working families.” But once inaugurated in 2009, Obama joined the Democratic majority in Congress in detonating a thermonuclear explosion of federal borrowing, spending, taxing, subsidizing, regulating, wasting and guaranteeing. He remains personally popular, but public support for his policies, most notably health care reform, is near or below 50 percent and steadily trending downward.
Tuesday’s election results should make clear to Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress that they seriously misinterpreted what voters were saying in 2006 and 2008. In 2006, angry voters turned out a Republican majority that for more than a decade had promised one thing, but delivered something else. Then in 2008, voters took Obama at his word that he was a centrist, and they closed the book on racism in American history by making him the nation’s first black president. Nowhere in 2008’s returns was there a voter mandate for pork barrel spending of unprecedented magnitude, abrupt nationalization of the banking and auto industries, or turning doctors and nurses into government employees and patients into wards of the state. The question now is whether Obama and the Democrats will recognize just how far they’ve overreached and step back from their extreme agenda.
Republicans could just as easily misinterpret the 2009 election results. The leading shifts within the electorate that produced Bob McDonnell’s win in Virginia and Chris Christie’s victory in New Jersey were among independents and voters who worry most about the economy. The dramatic shift of independents to the GOP reiterates that America remains a centrist nation with a distinct tilt to the right. Similarly, voters most worried about the economy decisively backed McDonnell and Christie, who both promised lower taxes, less spending and more encouragement of economic freedom and growth. But Republicans will go far amiss if they conclude simply saying no to Obama and the Democrats is their ticket back to power. Voters want leaders they can trust because they do what they promise. Everything else is secondary.