• The Wall Street Journal
    • OCTOBER 28, 2010

    There They Went Again

    The 111th Congress fits a familiar Democratic pattern.

    • Democrats and their allies are already rationalizing their likely defeat next Tuesday, variously blaming the economy, GOP obstructionism, corporate money, or an inexplicable collapse in President Obama’s communications skills. Whatever minor truth lies in these excuses, they obscure the larger reality: Americans appear ready to repudiate Democratic governance for the fourth consecutive time.

    Far from being a unique historical event, a GOP victory on Tuesday will repeat the pattern we have seen since the 1960s. Four times Democrats have won control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and four times they have attempted to govern from the left. Each time Americans saw that agenda and its results, and they rejected it at an early opportunity. Maybe there’s a lesson here.


    We cite the 1960s as a watershed because it marked the creation of the modern Democratic Party. The Southern conservatives who had checked the left since the de facto end of the New Deal in 1938 were swept away by LBJ’s 1964 landslide. Democrats implemented their fondest ambitions—the Great Society, Medicare and Medicaid—only to lose 47 House seats in 1966 and the White House two years later, as the Democratic coalition split over Vietnam and flower power.

    Thanks to Watergate, Democrats returned to overwhelming dominance in 1976. Jimmy Carter had run as a centrist—he favored regulatory reform and sun-setting programs—but he quickly ran afoul of young liberals on Capitol Hill who had flooded into the House in 1974. They overrode Mr. Carter’s spending vetoes and ran his budget director out of town. Democrats avoided major losses in 1978 only to lose both the Senate and White House in the first Reagan landslide amid inflation and gasoline lines.

    Their next chance to govern came in 1992, as Bill Clinton won the Presidency after 12 years of GOP dominance. Mr. Clinton ran as a New Democrat, but there were few of those in Congress. Democrats imposed a huge tax increase, put off welfare reform and tried to pass HillaryCare. They lost both houses in 1994, and they wouldn’t reclaim the House for 12 years, amid the near-defeat in Iraq and GOP corruption of 2006. For his part, Mr. Clinton saved his Presidency by moving back to the center.

    The fourth great Democratic governing opportunity arrived two years ago as Barack Obama rode his post-partisan rhetoric and the financial panic to the largest win by a Democrat since LBJ. Their House majority swelled to 39 seats, and in the Senate they achieved a filibuster-proof 60 seats. The Republican “brand” was badly tarnished, and pundits heralded a new Democratic era. Amid the Democratic euphoria, New York Senator Chuck Schumer visited our offices and told us to cooperate with this new agenda or we would be irrelevant.***



    Whatever voters thought they were getting in Mr. Obama, in practice they had elected governance by the Congressional Democrats arrayed nearby. These are the 1960s liberals whom Mr. Obama has empowered and who have run Washington the last two years.

    • David Obey, first elected in 1969, wrote the $814 billion stimulus and directed it toward transfer payments rather than job-producing public works.

    • Barney Frank, class of ’80 and patron of Fannie Mae, wrote the financial reform bill with its 243 new rule-makings and enshrinement of too big to fail.

    • Henry Waxman, class of ’74, and Ed Markey ’76 wrote the cap-and-tax bill that passed the House but failed when Democrats revolted in the Senate. That vote is now punishing Democrats across the U.S.

    • Pete Stark, class of ’72, drove ObamaCare as far left as it could go in the House, insisting on a new payroll tax. This vote will also end many Democratic careers next week.

    • George Miller, class of ’74, wrote the federal takeover of the student loan industry and is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chief enforcer.

    • And of course the Speaker herself, first elected in 1987, who famously told Mr. Obama not to compromise on ObamaCare after the Senate election of Scott Brown in January. She would jam the bill through no matter the opposition.

    Perhaps Mr. Obama could have imposed more discipline on this crowd, and we advised him early to do so. He chose not to. We suspect he never wanted to, and multiple reports say he overruled then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to side with Mrs. Pelosi on health care. Mr. Obama is responsible for lashing his Presidency to the Speaker’s mast.

    It’s especially amusing to hear liberal complaints about the 111th Congress, because the reality is that Democrats have achieved most of what they set out to do. With only 40 Senate votes, Republicans couldn’t stop a whisper until Mr. Brown arrived, and even then they let through financial reform and another round of stimulus spending. From her liberal perch, Mrs. Pelosi has a point when she laments that Democrats aren’t getting credit for their legislative achievements. And our guess is that soon after November 2 the lads at MSNBC and the New York Times will speak of this as a liberal Golden Age and defend its every act.

    Mrs. Pelosi’s real problem is with the American people. They understand what Democrats have achieved, and they dislike it. They thought they had elected a President who would focus on the economy, but instead they got the most far-reaching liberal social policies since the 1960s. Those policies have frightened business and produced a capital and hiring strike.

    Americans were told the $814 billion stimulus would hold the jobless rate below 8%, but two years later it is 9.6% and the economic recovery has stalled. They were promised fiscal restraint, and instead they got spending at a postwar high of 25% of GDP. They were told ObamaCare would lower insurance costs, but so far it has produced only higher costs and fewer health-care choices. They were promised a tax cut, but they can see tax increases coming next year, in 2013, and later to pay for all the spending. This is what has driven the electorate to the verdict it will render on Tuesday.


    The irony is that the Democrats most likely to lose next week are centrists and Blue Dogs in the most competitive election districts. Most liberals hold relatively safe seats, and their worst fear is that they’ll lose their chairmanships. The exception is Mrs. Pelosi, who would lose her speakership and perhaps resign if Democrats lose their majority. But we suspect she has long believed that losing was possible but worth the risk to pass ObamaCare. You have to break a few careers to make a European entitlement state.

    The larger lesson is that we are learning for the fourth time in 45 years that America can’t be governed from the left. Democrats exploited the recession and the accident of 60 Senate seats to push the agenda of their dreams, and the American public has recoiled at the effrontery and the results. Repairing the damage of the 111th Congress will take years, and perhaps decades, but the first step is ousting the liberals who once again drove their party off a cliff.


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