On the afternoon after the Democratic Party's dramatic drubbing, which briefly threatened to wholly redistribute the American Internet's stockpile of action verbs that we usually apply to particularly incisive "Last Week Tonight" bits, President Barack Obama held a press briefing so reporters could ask him to supply a synonym for the word "shellacking." (That's what press briefings are now, I guess: the brief opportunity to turn elected officials into on-demand thesaurus services.)
Naturally, all those who observed the proceedings came away with the impression that Obama was, perhaps, taking the bad news of the previous evening rather coolly, with the seeming insistence that he would continue to suggest he has a valid point of view about what policies should be put forward and such. It's an open question as to what would have sufficed as the "correct" reaction to the previous night's returns. Perhaps weeping? A recitation of King Lear's "O, reason not the need" soliloquy? Some metaphorical death-bed conversion to Rep. Paul Ryan's economic philosophies? Whatever it was, the Beltway's louche thought-havers did not receive it in the abundance to which they felt entitled.
I can't really fathom the need to acquire some sort of emotional content from Obama, but then, that's because the underlying fundamentals of the election results are more than sufficiently interesting to me. The president will now have to operate with both legislative houses arrayed against him. There's very little that both sides will agree on, and the will to even proceed on those measures without some dose of inflammatory trolling from a GOP-led legislative branch seems to be uniquely lacking in this instance.
But this is a thing that we've previously observed in nature. Newt Gingrich brought the hurt to the Clinton administration in 1994 (and to his credit, he at least had a codified governing agenda at the time). More recently, in 2006, the Democrats routed the GOP and forced President George W. Bush into similar straits. I did not commit Bush's emotional reaction to the House loss to memory at the time, because I didn't find it sufficiently important to remember. But it's not as though Bush suddenly gave up his own point of view to become more accommodating to the opposition.
Over at The Washington Post, Dana Milbank remembers things differently:
President George W. Bush was rarely one to admit error, but on the day after the midterm "thumpin' " Republicans received eight years ago, he responded dramatically. Bush announced the ouster of defense chief Donald Rumsfeld and set in motion a new Iraq policy. He also offered a frank acknowledgment that everything had changed: "The election's over and the Democrats won, and now we're going to work together for two years to accomplish big objectives for the country."
Nah. While it's true enough that then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld drew the short straw in the contest to determine who would be the symbolic fall-guy for Bush's midterm beat down, it's important to be clear about what "new Iraq policy" was subsequently "set in motion," and not shine people on by pretending that this was a product of a president duly subdued by a grim midterm defeat. The "new Iraq policy" was a flamboyant doubling-down on the old one: a larger troop commitment and another billion-dollar buy-in. Bush laid all of this out in a lengthy address to the nation on Jan. 10, 2007. That oration contained minimal acknowledgement of the recent elections, save for a half-hearted assurance that alternative Iraq War plans proffered by Congress were "carefully considered" before being summarily rejected. This was not a humbled or chastened president, reacting by rethinking his approach. (Neither was it a president with a renewed commitment to competence, as it turned out.)
While we're pondering these recent midterms, however, there is something worth noting about how the world changed as a result of the 2006 elections. Or, rather, failed to change.
Despite being brought back to power with an urgent mandate from America's voters to end the aforementioned Iraq War, the Democrats went on to essentially flop about in a dormant haze and let Bush do whatever he wanted. If you want to re-examine that period of time for insight into the here and now, I'd say this illumination of the basic character of the members of the Democratic Party is a far more instructive observation to poach from that era. All I can do is look at the efforts of Democrats -- who, mind you, succeeded in their generational mission to pass health care reform and then fled from the sight of their accomplishment -- and feel nothing but a big sense of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Far be it from me to suggest Obama should feel differently.
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