By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
South Carolina GOP Senator Jim DeMint gloating in the aftermath of the GOP House wipeout crowed that the election sent a message that the country rejected Obama’s policies. The message was not a message but a warning that Obama must toe the GOP line or as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just as bluntly put it the GOP will fulfill its goal of making him a one term president. President Obama now more than ever must turn a tin ear to Jim DeMint and House Republican hawks.
A quick glance at history gives one answer why. FDR after his smash reelection win in 1936 took a similar GOP drubbing a bare two years later in the 1938 midterm elections. The Democrats lost seven seats in the Senate, and a crushing 81 seats in the House. The issue that the GOP latched onto to ramp up their numbers was pretty much the same as the issue the GOP used to hammer Obama this go round, namely the economy.
The economy turned even sourer in the two years after Roosevelt’s 1936 land slide win, and unemployment crept up higher from its still double digit numbers. But it wasn’t just the numbers, the GOP played hard on the feeling that the New Deal wasn’t working, and that it had run out of steam and that the real answer to the nation’s economic crisis was to turn things back over to big business and let it run the economic ship without the Roosevelt and New Deal governmental restraints, agencies, tampering and meddling.
Roosevelt ignored the administration baiters and lurched left. He increased spending on job programs, continued to pound the “economic royalists” for subverting the economy, and attacked auto and steel giants and the superrich “Sixty Families” for doing everything to stymie the recovery. FDR upped the ante even higher when he appointed Robert Jackson as the aggressive new director of the antitrust division of the Justice Department with a clear mandate to hit hard at the trusts. FDR railed that they were blocking his program and micromanaging the GOP rightwing attacks and takeover. In a fireside chat, FDR talked bluntly with the American people immediately after the 1938 election and made it clear he would not reverse course and that he’d do everything he could to “create an economic upturn” by keeping the government firmly in the business of creating jobs and economic security for the millions still suffering from the Depression.
2010 is really no different. The GOP took the House and a good chunk of the Senate back and it will follow the 1938 script with FDR. That is claim their win as a total rejection of the Obama administration’s program on health care, financial reform, and stimulus spending, and claim that Americans loudly clamor for a return to fiscal conservatism, permanent tax cuts for the super rich, and a sprint backward on expanding government programs in education, housing, and highway and urban infrastructure construction and reconstruction.
Polls show nothing of the sort. They show that voters want Congress to work with the President on solving the nation’s problems, starting with the economy. They do not want a repeat of 1994 when a hardball, pig headed GOP leadership shut down government and caused national angst and misery. They want home foreclosure relief, to give health care reform a chance to work, keep hands off financial reform, and an end to the Iraq and Afghan wars. The polls showed that they hold Congress and that includes the GOP in far lower popular esteem than Obama. Voters also rejected Tea Party crackpot Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and possibly Joe Miller and a pack of the other shrillest Tea Party loonies.
This isn’t to say the Tea party activist’s faux anti-tax, anti-big government, borderline race tinged appeals and sloganeering didn’t touch a deep nerve among those already inclined to believe and think the worst about Obama. It did.
Yet, there is one final thing President Obama must bear in mind. While arguably much heat on the White House and White House backed incumbents came from the GOP mainstream, Tea Party activists, the low intensity grousing from many progressives and liberal Democrats of expressing disappointment, and frustration with Obama also took a toll. The not so subtle hint was that a disaffected and angered left could hurt Obama too by not hitting the barricades in massive numbers to back White House backed incumbents.
The White House must not to panic, be bullied by the Tea Party egged on House GOP hawks, or swallow the media mantra that the election was somehow a total rejection of Obama’s initiatives. FDR didn’t panic in the face of 1938 midterm losses. He stayed the course, remained true to his populist faith, turned the tables back on his foes, and dared them to move the country forward not backward. Obama should do no less and turn a tin ear to the right.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter.