Magazine article The American Conservative

Representative Failure: Pelosi and Reid: The GOP's Best Hope for 2010

Magazine article The American Conservative

Representative Failure: Pelosi and Reid: The GOP's Best Hope for 2010

Article excerpt

IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT that John McCain had won the presidency. Once the chills pass and the surf-music sounds of "Bomb, bomb Iran" fade, think about what this outcome would have required of the electorate. An unpopular incumbent party with abysmal approval ratings would have been rewarded with additional years in power. The American people would have ignored their intense conviction that the country is on the wrong track--a view held by 76 percent in the exit polls--and stuck with the devil they knew over the change agent they didn't. A stunning upset, the "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline on steroids.

Yet when the Democratic Congress was returned to power with increased majorities in both houses, hardly anyone batted an eye. The single remarkable thing the Capitol Hill knitting circle led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid accomplished over the last two years was a negative: they managed to become even less popular than President Bush. That's no easy feat. Since late 2005, Bush's approval ratings have seldom budged above the low 30s. Only 27 percent of those who turned out on Election Day told exit pollsters they approved of the president's performance in office.

Heading into the election, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll pegged Congress' approval rating at 18 percent. This is not some partisan scheme by Rupert Murdoch or Roger Ailes to embarrass the Democratic majority. An earlier CBS News/New York Times poll found a 15 percent congressional approval rating, with net disapproval standing at an eye-popping 60 percent. Back in May, Gallup reported, "Approval of Congress has dipped below 20% for only the fourth time in the 34 years Gallup has asked Americans to rate the job Congress is doing."

Republicans predictably hate the Pelosi-Reid Congress. More surprisingly, Democrats and independents do, too. If there is intelligent life in outer space, it probably thinks the House and Senate are doing a lousy job. It's easy to understand why: the Congress that was elected in 2006 has given everyone a reason to hate it.

It has tried to do enough liberal things to raise conservative ire--increase taxes, expand taxpayer funding of embryonic stem-cell research while extending it to abortion, block offshore drilling, boost the minimum wage, pass a bloated farm bill, enlarge the federal government's role in healthcare. It has, as much through its own leadership's fecklessness as Republican obstructionism, failed to do enough of these things to outrage liberals. And while independents claim to love divided government, they also dislike the "Do-Nothing" Congresses that tend to result. (Before Republicans get too carried away with all this, they might remember another reason voters hate the Democratic Congress: many of them mistakenly think it is still controlled by the GOP.)

Above all, this Congress was elected to help bring an end to the war in Iraq. Two years later, there is no end in sight. There have been surges rather than timetables and escalations that dwarf any drawdowns. It's true that Senate Republicans filibustered Democratic legislation to attach strings to the Iraq War funding, thwarting Pelosi and Reid. It's equally true that these Democratic leaders capitulated by passing war funding without conditions, actually outspending President Bush on some of the war supplementals (though much of the additional money was, like our Mesopotamian adventure itself, unrelated to any readily identifiable national-security purpose).

"We have provided all of the money the president requested--and more," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer boasted in March. They proved equally compliant when it came time to extend the Patriot Act, reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Services Act, and offer immunity to telecommunications companies that complied with Bush's national surveillance program. …

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