At least now, when the president blames the guy in his job four years ago, he’ll be right.
That was a thumping, make no mistake. A failed president earns another four years; his party cements its hold on the Senate; there will be no legislative repeal of Obamacare, little chance to block left-wing judicial nominees . . . Shall we list the next 20 or 30 bad things Election Day brought us? But cheer up. Liberals will have their own travails (the curse of second terms, the back-loaded weight of their policies). We have lived through worse (the Seventies: the fall of Nixon, the fall of Saigon, bad hair). “A stout heart, a clear conscience, and never despair” — John Quincy Adams to Charles Francis Adams, January 1, 1848.
The Benghazi debacle slid into bedroom farce with David Petraeus’s resignation as director of the CIA. A week before he was scheduled to testify before Congress, Petraeus stepped down, admitting an affair with Paula Broadwell, his (ahem, over-enthusiastic) biographer. Broadwell was under investigation by the FBI for sending harassing e-mails to another woman who knew Petraeus. There is still much to learn that isn’t merely titillating. When did Attorney General Holder — the FBI’s boss — know? When did the president? David Petraeus performed prodigies with the Iraq surge; his fall is shameful for him and a shame for his country. But it must not obscure the still-unanswered questions about Benghazi. Why were Ambassador Stevens’s requests for increased security ignored? Why, during an hours-long firefight, did the only reinforcements come from Tripoli, not (in force) from Sicily? The press will obsess over the sex scandal, but it will be up to the House, if not the Senate, to dig into the important questions.
With taxes set to go up across the board at the start of the year, the politicians are bargaining. Speaker John Boehner says that while he opposes raising tax rates because it would hurt the economy, he is willing to accept a tax reform that raises revenue from high earners if it is coupled with entitlement reform. Some Democrats have talked about letting all the tax rates go up, introducing tax cuts for the middle class alone, and then daring the Republicans to block them. This scenario should not frighten Republicans: The Republican House will surely pass a bill blocking tax increases on anyone, including the middle class. If middle-class taxes go up, voters may well blame the man in the White House, especially since he is part of the party usually associated with higher taxes. Republicans should negotiate in the confidence that they have the power to walk away from the table.
One thing Republicans have to do in the wake of the election is step up their technical game. It wasn’t just naïfs who believed Dick Morris, who expected a victorious GOP surge; Republican-campaign pollsters themselves thought they were doing well, or well enough. This myopia covered the popular vote and the swing states, the presidential election and numerous Senate and House races. The pollsters assumed that there would be fewer minority and young voters than in 2008, when in fact the no-shows were working-class whites. Time, evidently, for new pollsters. Another shortfall is cultural: President Obama was mocked for appearing with The View’s ladies and the Pimp with the Limp (a Miami rapper/DJ), but that’s how you reach the public this millennium. James Madison wrote Federalist papers; he also hawked subscriptions for friendly newspapers, spoke in open-air debates, and married a wife who threw great parties for fellow pols. Go, and sulk no more.
The election results mean that Obamacare will not be repealed in the next four years. Conservatives should not conclude that it will therefore be a permanent feature of American life. State governments should refuse to establish the exchanges the law envisions: Thanks to a flaw in the law’s design, the federal government can establish exchanges itself but cannot legally put its taxes and subsidies into effect without the states’ cooperation. (States should also join Oklahoma in its fight to keep the IRS from flouting the law.) Even if the law goes into full effect, its many perversities could require congressional attention. If that happens, Republicans will have major leverage — at least if they offer serious alternative proposals to make insurance affordable, as they should long ago have done.