The Washington washing machine has been set on spin cycle for the past few weeks. Spin-sters from both sides of the aisle have been working hard to make sure their party comes out of Massachusetts special election looking squeaky clean.
Many Democrats have interpreted the loss, not as a repudiation of their agenda, but as mandate to move further to the left. According to this view, Democrats are falling out of favor because they are governing too close to the center and thus alienating the liberal-minded base which got them elected. As Howard Dean put it curtly to Chris Matthews,
Yesterday the problem was that people wanted more.
On the other hand, Republicans have been quick to construe the Massachusetts race as a representation of the public’s fundamental dislike of the Obama Administration’s policies. After all, Scott Brown won in a liberal state after running a campaign based around being the 41st Republican vote in the Senate. Oddly enough, some Congressional Democrats have echoed this view. As Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) said,
“There’s going to be a tendency on the part of our people to be in denial about all of this, [but] if you lose Massachusetts and that’s not a wake-up call, there’s no hope of waking up. . . Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Dem party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country – that’s not going to work too well.”
What neither side seems to grasp is that their positions are not mutually exclusive. The national mood remains very similar to 2008 when the electorate overwhelmingly voted Barack Obama into office. Now for something shocking: this is great news for Republicans.
In 2008 people were tired of the GOP’s perceived tone deafness. They felt anger that the Bush White House consistently failed to listen to their concerns, almost stubbornly insisting on its own way. Voters demanded change and Obama, better than any other candidate, was able to tap into this sentiment. Fast-forward one year and Democrats have lost the monopoly on change. Coming face to face with the largest issues of the day, Democrats have been unable to come up with workable answers. More importantly, people perceived the administration has continued the business as usual politics of an out of touch government. Rightly or wrongly, partisan bickering, special interests, backdoor deals, pork barrel politics, and a lack of transparency are all stories that have dominated the headlines over the past year.
This has opened up the opportunity for Republicans to once again become the party of change. What we must understand is that 2008 did not represent a fundamental revolution in the electorate’s ideology, it represented a change in the public’s perception of how each party matched up with those ideals. As a new Wall Street Journal poll shows, the electorate’s ideological stance has remained consistent, but there was nevertheless seismic shift towards the Democratic Party.
The same wave that carried Obama into office could now sweep Republicans into the majority, but they must embrace the opportunity. We cannot be content to merely label Democrats as “too far to the Left” or become comfortable with the idea that people are unhappy with their policies, we must take action. To succeed where Democrats have failed we must become the party of change against the establishment Democrats. But more importantly, to have lasting effect, we must carry more than a label…we must back it with substance. As Massachusetts showed, if we can convey the mantle of change, we can and will win everywhere.
- Brandon Greife, Political Director, College Republican National Committee