Reflections on 2010 and looking ahead to 2011

Putting all partisan feelings aside (I am a liberal Democrat and a supporter of President Obama and all his policies, especially national healthcare and the end of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”): I feel good about American democracy and our system of government because of the election results in 2010 and the reaction of our president in December 2010 in the lame-duck session. Both bode well for 2011 and 2012 for the country — and bode well for President Obama in particular in his reelection prospects.

First, the 2010 elections reflected American democracy at its best. The people spoke — and they “threw the bums out.” It doesn’t matter that I disagreed with their judgment, or that Democrats made many mistakes, or that many of the circumstances that led to the results were beyond the Democrats’ or Obama’s control, such as the economic disaster that Obama and the Democrats inherited as of January 2009. One statistic tells it all. In 2008, President Obama won +18 percent among independent voters. In 2010, independent voters voted Republican +18 percent. It is a fact: That’s a swing of 36 percent in two years from the Democrats to the Republicans. The main reasons, according to polls of these independents, were the economy and fears of government growing too big, taxes too high, Washington too dominant. Much of that related to the healthcare legislation and how it was handled — and especially, a very poor process of how it was enacted from the viewpoint of these independent voters (and most Americans). So the mood on Election Day 2010 was pessimism, cynicism toward government and deep anxiety about unemployment and the economy.

What a difference a month makes. President Obama made the pivot that I and many other Democrats from the Clinton years especially have been urging — a pivot to the middle, even while offending many in his liberal base. I strongly opposed allowing all Bush tax cuts to be extended, because of concern about adding $3 trillion of long-term deficit to the country’s national debt. But I even more strongly favored increasing taxes on upper-income taxpayers (including myself) to reduce the impact of the Bush tax-cut extension on the deficit. But I also supported President Obama’s pragmatic decision to cut a deal with Republicans, even knowing there were lots of liberal Democrats like me who would be unhappy. Obama did the right thing. And in the short term, the agreement will accomplish two important things regarding 2011 and 2012 as well: First, it establishes an important precedent of Obama sitting down and working out compromises with Republicans to get things done, even if he has to go against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the liberal wing of his party while doing so. This is a good thing — because the country wants to get things done and despises the partisan warfare and stalemate that was the hallmark of politics in 2009-10. Second, the agreement on tax cuts plus economic stimulus plus extension of unemployment benefits must have a positive effect on the economy. I can only hope it also causes a substantial drop in unemployment.

So I end up in the ironic position of thinking that the defeat in November 2010 of my party in Congress and my principles of liberalism by a substantial number of American voters (and certainly independent voters) will likely end up as a good thing for Democrats, a good thing for President Obama and a good thing for the country.

Stay tuned. 

Davis, the principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which also specializes in legal crisis management, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.  He is the author of the book Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America.