KATHLEEN PARKER is a syndicated columnist of The Washington Post, a regular guest on television shows like The Chris Mathews Show and The O’Reilly Factor, and is a member of the Buckley School’s faculty. She won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary.
Post-election analysis falls somewhere between amusing and clueless.
In the amusing camp are Democratic strategists who intone that more Democrats would have won if only more people had voted. The gods surely blush with envy.
And of course, there’s the conventional wisdom that Democrats always suffer in midterms because they lack “intensity,” meaning they don’t care, and that presidents are always unpopular in their sixth year in office.
So much for insight.
Next we visit the clueless camp where professional pundits gather. The consensus here is that the election wasn’t a mandate for Republicans to overhaul government. I confess that I was one of these, but (mark your calendars) I was wrong. There is a difference between warning victors against the end-zone prance, as many of us did, and denying that Republicans were hired to do a job.
There’s also no denying that the midterms were a referendum on President Obama. The president prefers to say they were a referendum on his policies, which is perhaps an easier pill to swallow. But Obama is his policies, which happen to rub many Republicans (and at least a few Democrats) the wrong way.
Moreover, people don’t like being insulted and misled, as many feel they have been by this administration. This is not just a feeling but a demonstrable fact, especially vis-a-vis the Affordable Care Act. And it’s not just the far-right fringe who object to the strategic misrepresentations along the way.
These obfuscations include telling the American people that they could keep the insurance they had if they liked it and also writing the law in such a way that the ACA’s mandate to purchase government-approved insurance was not a “tax,” despite the Internal Revenue Service’s role in policing its compliance.
The keep-your-insurance ruse is history now, but the memory still lingers in the minds of voters, who, contrary to what the Obama White House thinks, are not stupid. There’s no dishonor — and it certainly isn’t stupid — to not understand the ACA. The then-Democratic-controlled Congress that passed the thing didn’t even understand it. I’d wager that most still don’t.
Punditry aside, there’s no mystery to the midterm shellacking. It was a loud, clear shout-out to Congress to Just Stop It. Not only stop Obamacare, which more likely will end up being tweaked, but to stop executive overreach and disinformation to sway votes while betraying voters.
Those who feel defrauded by their own government got third-party confirmation recently when remarks by one of the ACA’s chief architects, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber — invoking the stupidity of voters and lauding the political advantage of a lack of transparency in government — went viral.
It is a beautiful thing when Truth trots out the door before Oops can catch him.
The comments were made on a panel about a year ago but were released a week after the midterms. Gruber was making the point that Obamacare never would have passed if the administration had been honest about the fact that the so-called “penalty” for noncompliance with the mandate was really a tax.
“And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing [Obamacare] to pass.”
The irony is that the very thing the White House was trying to conceal (because the truth was just too complicated for regular folks), the Supreme Court essentially confirmed. Enforcement of the mandate constituted a tax, not a penalty. Thus spake Chief Justice John Roberts.
This ruling, indeed, was the reason the ACA was able to go forward, which is why so many Republicans were apoplectic with Roberts’ siding with the liberals in a 5-4 ruling. In other words, Obama’s obfuscation was simultaneously revealed and rewarded by the court. And the American people were smacked with a health-system overhaul many more would have rejected had they known the truth.
Or would they? It’s hard to know what might have happened if truth had won the day. But we do know that truth squandered is trust lost.
We also know that once trust is gone, it’s very hard to restore. Over time, and not just during this administration, we have lost trust in one institution after another. But when we have lost faith in our government, we have lost faith in ourselves.
At their core, the midterms were really about restoring that trust. This, it seems, is the mandate that precedes all others and will require the good faith efforts of both Democrats and Republicans.