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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Demonstrating the Value of a Legislative Steamroller

It has been an extraordinarily productive lame duck session of Congress. Just yesterday, the Senate passed the new START treaty, the Zagroda health bill for 9/11 first responders, and President Obama signed a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" into law. In fact, this last gasp of the 111th congress is in many ways representative of this class's entire term -- this congress has been the most productive of any since 1960.

And, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, America seems to be paying attention. While Gallup reported earlier this month that congressional approval ratings were the "worst in Gallup history" at 13%, CNN polled opinions of only this lame duck session and found an amazing turn-around -- 56% approve of what Congress is doing. Also interesting, 46% blame Republicans for the "lack of cooperation between the two parties in Washington," compared with just 28% who blame Democrats and 23% who say both parties are equally guilty. (Full results here [pdf])

On approvals, CNN finds Americans perfectly split on Democrats, with 47% reporting favorable opinions and 47% unfavorable. Republicans don't fare as well, with 42% favorable and 50% unfavorable. The Tea Party likewise doesn't do all that well, with 37% having a favorable opinion and 43% unfavorable. And, above all, Pesident Obama is the big winner in this session, with 56% approving his actions during the lame duck session and 41% disapproving.

All in all, this points to Republicans walking into a public opinion buzz saw next year, when the party takes control of the House of Representatives. It was clear that the GOP had no mandate after the elections and it's never been more clear than now. While some (not very serious) pundits were predicting that Barack Obama was headed to a one-term presidency just a week or two before, not many are saying that now. They might be better off wondering what the hell Republicans are going to do to keep from further losing the public.

On that point, Republicans are making a common mistake. Get a GOPer in front of a camera and, sure as shootin', that GOPer will start talking about how the American people voted for the Republican Party in November. I say this is a mistake because most people don't vote for parties, they vote for people. I'd be more than willing to bet that the average voter didn't cast their ballot to give Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives. In fact, they didn't vote for whichever Republican they cast their ballot for, they voted against the incumbent.

But what about Democrats? With the lame duck Congress riding high, what can we learn there?

Lesson number one is that voters don't give a crap about process. Congress suffered lousy approval ratings while they dithered over bipartisan agreement and enjoys soaring approvals as Democrats steamroller Republicans. Democratic leadership -- President Obama included and Nancy Pelosi (largely) excluded -- need to get their heads out of Washington and into America. Hit the mute button on pundits and cable news "analysts," because they don't know crap. It's just white noise meant to fill a 24 hour news cycle. Pay no more attention to it than the wallpaper in your office. It's useless, it's stupid, and easily 90% of it is wrong.

Just get things done. It doesn't matter how you get things done and no one other than Republicans and empty-suit pundits care about things like budget reconciliation. Getting things done won't be very possible in the 112th Congress, but -- if Democrats play their cards right and keep pounding away at Republican bad ideas -- they might have a chance again in the 113th. When someone talks to a Democrat about the importance of bipartisanship, that dem should laugh in their face and tell them that snipe hunts for bipartisan compromise are how they got in this mess in the first place. And every time they find themselves in front of a camera or a microphone, they should ask, "Have the Republicans fixed the economy yet?" -- because GOP economic ideas are boneheaded, bass-ackward, and sure to fail. The answer will always be "no."

There are no decisive victories in a democracy, no permanent gains. And, unless you keep throwing wood in the stove, the public opinion fire lit by the lame duck session of the 111th Congress will go out. Then Democrats will go back to being what they were before -- members of one of two clown troupes in Washington that no one at all likes.


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