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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Party like it's 1994

Conservatives are usually characterized by a nostalgia for the past, for the good old days when life was somehow better. This time around, they aren't focused on the Fabulous '50s or some other misty memory -- it's 1994.

That of course is the year that Newt Gingrich emerged from the back bench of Congress and armed with a Contract for America (or was that a contract on, I forget) swept to power in the House and Senate.

Today's Republicans -- led in some measure by the Lazarus-like Gingrich -- think history is about the repeat itself, led by a Democratic Party that went off a cliff over health care.

Far be it from me to remind people they shouldn't replay the last war.

The scenario builders like to point out that a liberal Democrat over extended himself on health care, aided and abetted by a tired legislative leadership and the House banking scandal.

There's one huge difference: 16 years ago, Gingrich and company were fresh faces, offering a litany of popular-sounding changes. Angry voters gave them a chance.

Today, few remember the mixed results of the contract. But the conservatives have a track record that includes war, massive deficits and abuses of civil liberties. Gingrich has been tarnished by his own peccadilloes. And the GOP has its fingerprints all over the Great Recession thanks to the credit car war effort.

The economy was and is the Democrats greatest vulnerability. The calendar is their best friend. Signs of economic life are sprouting like spring flowers although the most toxic issue, unemployment, is not yet among the signs.

It's foolish to equate the status of health care simply because 1994's failure for Democrats has turned into the year's signal accomplishment. Getting the facts out on what health care reform is -- an end to denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps, starting to close the doughnut hole -- and what it is not -- death panels -- will slowly start to turn the tide.

The biggest wild card -- the Tea Party movement -- has yet to prove its real clout at the polls, their alleged role in Martha Coakley's loss notwithstanding. While it's fairly clear it is an angry white folks movement, it's not yet clear whether the rage is purely partisan or aimed at all incumbents.

And it's also clear that many of the candidates with the most to fear are pulling out of races, creating a sort of survival of the fittest winnowing.

Whether that is enough to spare Democratic majorities in the House and Senate remains to be seen. But Republicans miss the most obvious lesson of 1994 -- it provided Bill Clinton with an opportunity to retool and win a second term, even with the Republican Smear Machine on hot pursuit.

It's a long way to November and polls can be a dangerous crystal ball.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 1994, Democrats were at the tired end of 40 years as the majority party, and were ripe for the picking. Along came Newt Gingrich and his angry band of Republicans and took full advantage of the opportunity. Today, there is no such dynamic. Democrats have only been in control (such as it is) for a couple of years, and it is fresh (or should be) in everyone's mind just which party controlled the government recently, and implemented the policies that put us in the position we are in today.

April 13, 2010 4:56 PM  

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