The 2010 midterm elections were anything but run-of-the-mill. From the primary season, it became apparent that an anti-incumbent atmosphere was settling in, and no one was safe, whether Democrat or Republican. What caused this anger to develop? Why is it that just two years after President Obama won the presidency by such a decisive margin, and with the Democrats gaining greater control of both the House and Senate, we are seeing a substantial reversal?
One explanation for this trend is that the Democrats took care of business out of order. President Obama and Congressional Democrats should have worked to strengthen the economy first, and left health care reform as a second-term job. Health care was, from the start, a very divisive issue that was bound to break down all hopes of bipartisanship. There are many instances of both Congressional Democrats and Republicans contributing to the disintegration of bipartisanship.
Fixing the economy was something that both parties wanted, and needed to achieve, making it a more effective beckoning call for bipartisanship because it is a common goal. Now that there is such an enormous divide between the two parties, all bets are off on working together on anything significant in the near future.
Going into these midterm elections, the economy was the most pressing issue for people walking into the polls. Perhaps if Democrats focused on fixing the economy, they would have fared better in the election, at least in the House.
What is particularly puzzling about the elections is the fact that it was predominantly the conservative Democrats that took the beating. For example, in the Third Congressional District here in New Jersey, Democrat John Adler — considered one of the ten most centrist members of Congress — was ousted by Republican Jon Runyan, a former NFL player who has had no experience in elected office at all.
These conservative Democrats were largely elected in 2006 or 2008, two years that were particularly good for Democrats. They were primarily elected in Republican districts. Adler was the first Democrat to hold his district since 1882 — it was therefore particularly easy for Republican challengers to uproot them the first year that was favorable to Republicans. Many of these Democrats tried to keep themselves as far away from the Obama agenda as possible, but ultimately still lost.
This turn of events should be a wake-up call to my fellow Democrats to move to the center. It is essential that we make this shift for our own sake if we are to take 2012 seriously. Trying to play to the progressive crowd has already alienated this party, as seen with the health care reform debacle. We took the issues out of order, and did not fix what was even more urgent — the economy.
A recent CNN poll found that 63 percent of voters are not confident that the Democrats can handle the deficit, while another poll also found that 58 percent are not confident in the Democrats’ ability to handle taxes. These results should be alarming to us since, just two years ago, our party was elected to fix these problems.
Indeed, it will take us far longer than two years to get out of the mess that the Bush administration and his Republican cohorts left behind. However, keeping in mind the nature of public opinion — a funny thing, which can swing one way or another at any given time — a party needs a unified focus, and by that I mean a convergence toward the center, where most preferences of Independents lie. We need to make sure that we are spending responsibly, working to make taxes more manageable and, most importantly, making conditions conducive to job creation — perhaps relieving many small businesses of some restrictions and taxes.
I only say this because I care. Now, more than ever, we need to pull together and get a clear focus of what we are doing. Otherwise, we are going to find ourselves losing even more ground in 2012. We need to get the public back on our side, and by embracing the centrists more, we can surely show that we are the party of the people.
David W. Chapman is the Secretary of the College Democrats, as well as a Senator-at-Large in the Student Government Association at The College of New Jersey.
RESPONSE — Call to Democrats, Rerouted