That "Tsunami" Was Actually a Split Decision | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

That "Tsunami" Was Actually a Split Decision


Above the Fold

     It could have been worse–a great deal worse.

     Tuesday was a difficult night for the Democratic party, but with an unemployment rate stubbornly stuck above nine percent, the loss of the House of Representatives had been a foregone conclusion for some time.   And while it is true the Republicans won six more House seats in 2010 than they did in the genuine blow-out of 1994, this time they failed to capture the Senate, despite a stream of stories suggesting that  unlimited campaign spending by American corporations would put the Grand Old Party over the top in both houses of Congress.

    Especially on the two coasts (where Fox news may be somewhat less influential), it was a terrible night for right-wing women millionaires–and Democratic Senate candidates won by huge margins.   In Connecticut, former wrestling magnate Linda McMahon spent $50 million of her own money and still lost by twelve points to Democrat Richard Blumenthal in the Senate Race.   In California, Carly Fiorina spent $5 million from her own pocket and got walloped 51. 9 to 42.6 percent by veteran Democrat Barbara Boxer–and Meg Whitman spent a staggering $140 million so that she could be humiliated by Jerry Brown in the Governor’s race.

    In another piece of good news, David Cicilline, the mayor of Providence, R.I., will become the fourth openly gay member of the House of Representatives, joining Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin , Barney Frank of Massachusetts, and Jared Polis of Colorado in the 112th Congress.

    This year was supposed to be all about the energy generated by the Tea Party, but that movement’s most important contribution to the election was to guarantee the Democrats control of the Senate, by nominating Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware.  O’Donnell was crushed 56 to 40 percent by Christopher Coons, while Harry Reid beat back Angle by almost 6 percentage points.   Senate Democratic candidates also prevailed narrowly in Colorado and Washington, and by ten points in West Virginia.

     Despite the very best efforts of Roger Ailes and his minions, millions of Americans still won’t elect lunatics to the Upper House.

    But the split decision that was this  year’s  election did not fit the narrative the Beltway boys and girls had been pushing for three months.   All they could wonder about on Wednesday was why Obama wasn’t abandoning all of his policies in response to what Washington reporters thought could only be seen as a rejection of everything he has accomplished in his first two years in office.

    The president actually gave an extremely reasonable, and characteristically intelligent performance at his press conference the day after the election.  While acknowledging a “shellacking,” he correctly attributed the results to the deep frustration of voters “with the pace of our economic recovery and the opportunities that they hope for, for their children and their grandchildren.  They want jobs to come back faster, they want paychecks to go further, and they want the ability to give their children the same chances and opportunities as they’ve had in life.”

    The president added, “I do believe there is hope for civility.  I do believe there’s hope for progress.  And that’s because I believe in the resiliency of a nation that’s bounced back from much worse than what we’re going through right now.”

    And when Fox’s Mike Emanuel pointed out that exit polls showed that one in two voters favor a repeal of health care reform,  Obama quite sensibly pointed out: “It also means one out of two voters think it was the right thing to do.”

    Naturally these sentiments were judged wholly inadequate by a furious White House press corps.  NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, another TV reporter whose attractiveness is perfectly matched by her shallowness, told the president, “You don’t seem to be reflecting or second-guessing any of the policy decisions you’ve made, instead saying the message the voters were sending was about frustration with the economy or maybe even chalking it up to a failure on your part to communicate effectively.  If you’re not reflecting on your policy agenda, is it possible voters can conclude you’re still not getting it?”

    On Washington Week in Review last night, Gwen Ifill declared that there were just two possible interpretations of the president’s performance at his press conference, “and neither of them are flattering to the president.  He’s in the rock and the hard place.  Which is, one is, he didn’t really hear what the people really said, and the other is, he just is kind  of stubborn.  There’s not a good interpretation of his reaction at least his initial reaction to this drubbing.” 

    That statement was nearly as dumb as the one she made at the top of her show: “What happened on Tuesday,” Ifill declared, “was a wave so forceful that even political tsunami warnings didn’t prepare Democrats for what it would actually feel like.”  That was so far from the truth that even one of Ifill’s own panelists, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, felt compelled to correct her:

    “I got the sense from calling around to Democratic leaders that they weren’t quite as shell-shocked as they were after the 1994 election,” Tumulty said.  “They did see this one coming.  But also, unlike a lot of these big wave elections, in this case the Democrats did pull it out for some very high-profile governor races and very high-profile senate races.”

    The same night, over on NBC’s Nightly News, Tom Brokaw managed to sound as out-of-it as he looked, pompously forecasting  “a 21st century version of a Shakespearian drama” because of the newly divided government.

    The former $10-million-a-year man castigated Obama for calling families that make $250,000 a year “rich” ($1 million should be the cut-off, according to Brokaw).  He also said “influential Democrats” believe that the president should shake up his cabinet, go outside of his Chicago circle, and “move to the center.”

    Move to the center, of course, is Washington talk for returning to the extreme right positions which prevailed during the previous administration.   The truth is, Obama has never been anywhere except the center, accepting countless compromises to get a health care plan passed (including his abandonment of the public option) as well dozens of changes on the way to signing the first serious financial reform act since the depression.

    What this election really proved is that America remains split right down the middle, and victory always goes to the side that manages the best turnout among its supporters.   In 2008, that was the Democrats; in 2010, it was the Republicans.   If the economy finally manages a robust recovery by 2012, Obama will be re-elected by a wide margin.  If it doesn’t, he will almost certainly be defeated.  

    Just one thing is certain: just about everything you’ve heard on television during the last four days will have no relevance to the ultimate success or failure of his administration.


Jon Stewart summarized the questions at the President’s press conference this way: “Do you suck? And a quick follow up: Do you suck so bad, you don’t even know how sucky you are?”   For the rest of his roundup, go here.