The Tsunami and The Question of Relative Movement

Amazing week!  Lots of political repositioning, searching for “correct” positions,  attempting that prove your “new” positions justify ignoring you’re old ones, explanations, spin, finger pointing, all manner of spurious analysis, looking for the magic mix of revised positions that might spare you from the apparent presence of a political tsunami coming Washington’s way.  Welcome to the tsunami.

No one expected it to arrive in January of 2010, eleven months ahead of schedule.  Few saw it coming as even a vague possibility until after the first of the year.  Belated recognition that a tsunami is coming does not alter its course.  

I digress, but it’s not about Martha Coakley.  Had she run a really good campaign and presented her administration/Congressional leadership friendly positions consistently and well she might have lost by even more.  She may have simply removed all doubt. Martha, it could have been worse.

Tsunamis don’t happen without a precipitating event: something has to occur to generate it.  The tsunami has been building since last spring.  

The tsunami came because the all important moderate center was caught up in relative movement.  It is difficult to know for sure if the moderate center simply stood their ground as policy moved leftward, or whether the moderate center actually moved to the right in a specific reaction to the leftward policy agenda. That’s where the relative movement equation comes to the fore.  That’s why it’s important.

If the moderate center simply stood their ground as policy went flying by on the left, then Democrats have a chance to survive the tsunami.  The inherent challenge is that they must be able to repudiate what they did and said in 2009.  They have to mount the argument that 2009 is not what they are about.  They have to sell the idea that their new post tsunami positions are “really, really, really” where they stand.  It could be a tough argument to win for many in light of stimulus, economic conditions, health care, cap & trade, back room deals, no transparency and the rush to regulatory reforms and punitive taxation.  Three statewide elections have gone the other way for Democrats; it took the third to actually deliver the message to the political class even though many still resist the message or look for a justifying interpretation that is simply not there.  

And then, there is the leadership equation.  Many Democrats, to win reelection, are going to have to run hard against or repudiate to some degree, their own leadership and what that leadership has said and done over the past year.  Imagine the ads: nothing but quotes from Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer for 30 seconds followed by how many times Representative X voted with leadership; ads with Nancy, talking about Astroturf, her fears of political violence, Nazi signs, reactionaries, Tea Baggers. Oops, hang on there, we  might have overplayed that one a bit! 

Moderate Democrats should consider taking a position in opposition to Ms. Pelosi remaining Speaker of the House if they want their “new” positions to stand any the chance of being credibly considered by moderate voters.  If Democrats maintain their majority and reelect Ms. Pelosi as Speaker it will be a crystal clear message that the appearance of moving to the center was no more than that, just appearances.  Watch out, tsunamis can occur  without warning!   

We’ve seen it this week, no one on the hill really wants to take on a new piece of legislation regarding health care.  The Speaker, in announcing that health care was as good as dead could not get out of that press converence fast enough, but had to get out ahead of her own caucus going public.   The newly minted 180 degree turn by some Democrats suggesting  small steps to address health care comes from  liberal Members of Congress such as Mr. Dellahunt of ………, wait for it, …… Massachusetts. Three Senators are bailing on cap & trade, Senator Warner has adopted the look of a deer in the headlights and many Democrats, fearing the potential for an aftershock, could not get to a microphone quick enough to support the expeditious seating of Senator Brown, and that’s just for openers.        

If, however, the center really has moved to the right and not just as a reflection of movement relative to the left, Democrats are in serious trouble.  If the center has moved to the right the inherent motivation for that movement will be a powerful force in the next election and the Speakership of Ms. Pelosi will be mute.  It’s easier to move right than left.

Republicans, however should take no comfort; their ability to lead on these issues remain to be seen.  Based on recent Republican town halls they are still foundering, looking for a unifying message that they actually have right in front of them.  They simply cannot seem to bring themselves to answer the questions from constituents  with “look, folks my position is based on a fundamentally different belief system than the majority in congress and the President, we should talk about what that belief system is because that is what’s going to guide me, and that is what I’d most like you to understand”.         

Tsunamis, typically have more than one wave.   The tsunami is the result of Americans speaking out and not being heard.  The tsunami is the result of a political class, in the event that they heard what was being said, ignoring and denigrating what they heard and more importantly who said it.  Astroturf indeed!  The tsunami came because the priorities of people were not the same as the priorities of the political class.  It came because ideology overwhelmed common sense and the very idea that politicians are elected to represent us, not manage us.

The tsunami is Americans being Americans.  The tsunami is Americans being a whole lot smarter than anyone inside the beltway thinks.  The tsunami is a demand for representative government at its most fundamental level. The tsunami is a demand to be heard and a demand that our current direction moderate.  The tsunami, whatever else you wish to say about it, has been peaceful, vocal, and passionate.  It has occurred within the parameters of our political system not outside of it.  It has convinced others to look seriously at a different point of view.  It is, untimatly,  American!!