Tuesday's two House elections filling vacant seats with Republicans may be signs of a nationwide voter shift. In New York, where Republican businessman Bob Turner captured Anthony Weiner's old district, Democrats just lost a seat that they have held since 1923. In Nevada, the Republican Mark Amodei walked away with victory in a state President Obama needs to win reelection.
Democrats shouldn't -- and aren't -- taking either loss lightly, but perhaps they should consider what put the Republican candidates over the edge: Americans want politicians willing to confront the big problems rather than those who promise silver-bullet solutions.
In a sea change of politics, Republicans may be breaking away from the bipartisan strategy of promising easy solutions to tough problems. Historically, Republicans promise savings by eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse," while Democrats just want higher taxes on businesses and "the wealthy." Both are red-herrings, intended to avoid making the tough choices.
But while Democrats are sticking to the old script, Republicans seem to have grown up a little. On a nationwide scale, Republicans are spurning feel-good solutions and vague promises. Instead, the GOP is offering tough decisions and priority setting. And -- surprise, surprise -- it seems to be working.
Today's Republicans are even talking about cuts in defense spending, as they continue to hammer on the third rail of politics -- entitlement reform. Despite Americans' desire for honesty, Democrats are still responding to the Republicans by hyperbolically scaring voters, especially seniors, that Republicans will take away their hard-earned benefits. But seniors are not stupid; they know we have financial problems and they want to be part of the solution for a better life for their grandchildren.
All Americans can now see vivid differences between Democrats and Republicans. Republican governors in New Jersey, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Virginia have addressed unfunded state pension liabilities and balanced budgets without raising taxes. As a result, their states have risen in several rankings including credit worthiness and business friendliness. This has led to more job creation and healthier local economies.
By comparison, states like California and Illinois, led by Democratic governors, have failed to confront bloated state workforces, ignored growing pension problems and even raised taxes. As a result, businesses and jobs are leaving these states in droves.
President Obama is also forcing the contrast between the two parties on how they deal with tough issues. First, he pushed a budget-busting health care reform bill through Congress by claiming it would cut the deficit. (It won't.) Then he ignored the recommendations from the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan deficit commission, which he created in the first place. Obama also passed on the opportunity to address major entitlement reform by working with House Republicans. Instead, he attacked Rep. Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans using scare tactics over Medicare cuts.
The President continues to play politics rather than serve as a leader. His $447 billion jobs proposal, which he wants to pay for with a host of new taxes, was more a political stunt than an honest attempt to deal with unemployment. He and his political advisers know that the bill is DOA in the House, where the Republican majority has rejected any tax increases. His political calculation is that come next year he will be able to portray Republicans -- and their nominee -- as obstructionists. That might be good politics, but it won't put a single American back to work.
Regardless of what the media might say, Republicans are now the adults in the room -- willing to lose votes and voters by confronting the tougher issues. Despite their hard-line stance on social issues, Republicans are making a good-faith effort at budget control and have forced a discussion of national priorities.
Republicans can further prove their maturity by recognizing that closing tax loopholes and letting temporary tax cuts expire won't bring about Armageddon. If rural American kids can risk life and limb in Afghanistan and Iraq, then all Americans can make sacrifices to solve our nation's huge financial challenges.
I am not a Republican or a Democrat. The Republicans lose me on social issues. But I embrace their willingness to raise tough, uncomfortable issues. We can only hope the Democrats follow their lead.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, "The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream."
Follow Gary Shapiro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GaryShapiro
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