Four years after regaining control of the House of Representatives and two years after winning a supermajority in the Senate, the Democrats are hard pressed to defend their position in the 2010 midterm elections for Congress.
The overwhelming rejection of Bush era Republicanism has quickly evaporated. The opposition was able to recover in the polls by fiercely criticizing the Democrats’ agenda. The mounting impopularity of health-care reform coupled with fiscal irresponsibility on part of the ruling party allowed the GOP to reinvent itself as a viable alternative. Divisions between neoconservatives and the more libertarian wing of the party are strained however — a split made all the more apparent as the Tea Party movement gained momentum.
Both parties should be forced to reconsider their political direction in the run-up to both the midterm elections of November and the presidential primaries of 2012.
Republicans must come to terms with their internal confusion about the proper role of goverment. All oppose an overhaul of health care that extends the power of the federal government yet social conservatives are stepping up to defend the entitlement programs. The party may need to break with the Bush legacy of “compassionate conservatism” if it intends to appeal to the recently reinvigorated libertarian sentiment that fuels the Tea Parties and hostility toward the Obama Administration in general.
Democrats face a similar dilemma albeit with different actors. Should they move to the center and settle for a toned-down reform bill, they risk alienating the unions and low-income families that occupy their base. These voters as well as their intellectual spokesmen had high hopes for President Obama but are sorely disappointed with his inability to enact financial reform.
Moderate middle-class voters meanwhile have little appetite for higher taxes and are more concerned about jobs creation — an issue that has been largely overshadowed by health care throughout the past year. These people lean toward the Republicans once again who pledge to bring spending under control.
Whether the Democrats manage to pass health-care and financial reform before the elections will greatly affect their popularity. The Republicans will do everything they can to prevent the passing of meaningful legislation. Besides making the Democrats seem ineffective this way, they know that the threat of “big government” brings conservatives together whereas with reform in place, they lose a great advantage and run the risk of descending into philosophical disunity.