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Posted at 9:20 AM ET, 12/ 6/2010

Friday question answered

By Jennifer Rubin

On Friday, I asked: What should each party have learned from the 2010 midterms, and what incorrect conclusion are they most likely to extract?

I was delighted by the number of responses, as well as their seriousness and intellectual heft. (And I love songs!) I could have selected any number of the answers.

I want to give special recognition to EricR1, who wrote in part, "Republicans should learn that the messenger matters as much as the message.The Tea Party message has reinvigorated the GOP, but its messengers are often too flawed to actually win general elections.... Democrats should learn that the message matters as much as the messenger. Obama is still a strong messenger, still the most popular politician in the country. But his message is so narrow, partisan and unappealing to the center that he is his own worst enemy."

But since I agree with virtually all EricR1 and many other readers wrote, to mix things up a bit I'll select the post from JMPickett, who made several interesting points, some of which I agree with and others that I do not:

The Democrats should learn that their leaders are significantly to the left of the American public. What they appear to be 'learning' is that they simply did not communicate their leftist agenda correctly.

The GOP should learn that focusing very intently on economic growth, fiscal restraint and limited government is a big political winner, and will garner a vast coalition of voters - Dem, Repub, indie.

What the GOP probably will learn is that they'll spend slightly less than Democrats, only on their own pet issues and pork. Plus, they'll push issues that offend gay people and pro-choice people. I'm generally conservative but I really think at these times, we need to stay focused on economics.

I'll take the Democrats first. I agree about the rump group of mostly liberal House Democrats who will remain in January. The recent rhetoric of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the vote for partial extension of the Bush tax cuts, and the shock and horror with which liberals such as Rep. Jan Schawosky (D-Ill.) greeted the debt commission report suggest they didn't hear the message voters were trying to convey. Last month's election was as close as one comes to a national referendum, and voters delivered a stern rebuke to the president's agenda.

The jury is still out, however, with regard to the White House's response to that message. We have seen some moves toward the center -- the willingness to extend the Bush tax cuts, the freeze on federal workers' pay, and the withdrawal of the withdrawal deadline for Afghanistan. These may be moves of expediency, reflecting a fear of a one-term presidency. And they may not be followed up with more meaningful measures. But there seems to be some recognition there that the president can't carry on in complete contravention of the voters' wishes and still hope to get re-elected.

As for the Republicans, I see, at least for now, a great deal of humility and determination not to blow it this time around, as they did following the 1994 midterms. House Republicans in key positions, especially the budget chairman, are committed to making real and deep cuts in spending and to put forth their own version of entitlement reform. The GOP doesn't control the Senate or the White House, but I see no tolerance, at least at this stage, to belly back up to the spending trough.

Social issues are a trickier matter. Social conservatives don't, of course, intend their positions on abortion and gay rights to be "offensive" to those who disagree. Like liberals, they adopt these positions based on a variety of moral. legal and public policy rationales. And, whether you agree or not, the modern social conservative movement was a reaction against what many saw as an affront to, and attack on, traditional family values. We can leave the merits of that debate for another Friday question. But for now, I actually don't see much, if any, enthusiasm for making these, or other issues like immigration, top issues. On the campaign trail, in my Va.-11 District and others, Democratic candidates have raised social issues in an apparent attempt to scare off moderate suburban voters. To the extent that these issues aren't already monopolized by the courts (to my chagrin, as a legal conservative who believes matters of public policy not explicitly set forth in the Constitution should be left to the elected branches of government), House and Senate leaders don't have much interest in dealing with these issues. Over and over again, they cite the mantra of jobs, economic recovery and spending as their main issues. I think they are serious.

I'll close with some observations about the Tea Party. Some of the ostensibly sophisticated Republicans who have long wanted to toss social conservatives from the GOP coalition turned up their noses at the Tea Partyers. They tried to hustle upstarts like Marco Rubio out of the primaries. But the Tea Party rallied Republicans and independent voters around an agenda based on limited government. That is the broadest possible foundation for Republicans to reconstruct the majorities that elected Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

We make a mistake by labeling this a purely "economic agenda," however. What started the Tea Party? A CNBC host ranting that a responsible homeowner shouldn't pay his irresponsible neighbor's mortgage. In other words, underlying the Tea Party movement is a set of values -- thrift, delayed gratification, personal responsibility, etc. Those are not what we have come to identify as "social" issues, but these are not simply matters of dollars and cents.

Again, many thanks for all the responses. We'll do it again on Friday. If you have ideas for future questions feel free to e-mail me at

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 6, 2010; 9:20 AM ET
Categories:  Friday question  
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I mostly agree with your analysis, Jennifer. What I really meant was that I don't want the GOP to start out 2011 pushing a marriage amendment or something that will alienate people. We have a fantastic Reagan-Democratesque coalition of people who are very worried about spending, debt, economic growth and limited government. My hope is that the GOP understand this and stays focused like a laser on these items. A major reason for Obama's problems was the highly offensive Obamacare bill. He took his eye off the ball and went for the go-to issue for liberals for the last 75 years - universal health care. He did this solely because he knew he had a once in 3 generations opportunity. I hope the GOP does not lose focus on what won them the election in November.

Posted by: jmpickett | December 6, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

JM: Thanks for writing in. You're exactly right on Obama's desire for a legacy achievement.

Posted by: Jennifer Rubin | December 6, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I think the Republican Party would be VERY well served if they adopted to their party platform the idea of having social issues become strictly a state decision and out of the realm of the federal govt. Things like abortion and gay marriage should be decided by only the states, and preferably by ballot question (rather than through legislation).

I think this would hearten social conservatives as they could fight a more winnable battle at the state level rather than a mostly losing battle at the federal level. Independents would like it (especially if states go the ballot question route) because they wouldn't feel that social conservatives were ramming their religious morals down the throats of everyone else (fair or unfair as that charge may be). Libertarians would like it because it takes power away from the govt and gives it to the citizenry.

And liberals would assuredly go apoplectic because they wouldn't be able to impose their social vision upon the rest of us via judicial fiat. More over, liberals would shrilly pit themselves against just about everyone else in the country, which would be a losing political battle. How could they defend not wanting the citizenry to decide our social issues rather than politicians or judges? They'd lose the rhetorical high ground.

The idea would be to oppose something like Roe v Wade not because one does not like abortion, but because one does not think such a decision should be in the realm of the federal judiciary.

I wish the Republicans, as a party, would adopt this platform as I can see lots of pros and no cons. It sure would help a presidential candidate to be able to simply say that he wants the states to have control over social issues and not have to answer thorny questions on the topic. "I'm opposed to gay marriage, but my personal view should be irrelevant" is a winning stance for a Republican presidential candidate.

One could argue that the courts in each state could usurp the process and rule a certain way on a social issue that the voters disagree with. That's a fair argument. However, just one court has deemed that abortion must be legal across the land. We're better off having that legal discussion 50 times rather than having Roe v Wade.

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | December 6, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Jennifer it is more than trying to achieve some legacy goal for Obama. I believe it is his belief and philosophy and he cares less about his own political future than your run of the mill politician. I believe him when he says he wants to fundamentally change America. Unfortunately for conservatives and all Americans Obamas vision for America is unlike any we have seen. He was raised far left bordering on communist and he will stop at nothing including his own political peril to achieve that goal. We must not think of him in the general, logical way we have judged politicians in the past for if we do I am afraid it will be at our peril.

Posted by: eddiehaskall | December 6, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

It is genuinely refreshing to witness a precipitous drop in hyperbole and ad hominem attacks in the readers' commentary here, after the initial flurry of such comments.

Continued good luck, Jennifer, in establishing a respectful dialog that everyone can benefit from, conservatives and liberals alike.

Posted by: HenriLeGrand | December 6, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

@Jennifer: "As for the Republicans, I see, at least for now, a great deal of humility and determination not to * it this time around"

I don't know. I'm not sure I see it. Frankly, I thought before that they had an opportunity to make substanceless compromises, give Obama a win, and craft as conservative a legislative agenda as we ever got out of Dubya . . . but, clearly, obstruction was a more effective route to votes. So that's the way they went. I'm not sure I'd define that as humility.

And, whatever they are saying, the 2010 pledge was not remotely as compelling as the '94 contract. They're already going to compromise (some would say) in order to preserve the Bush tax cuts for "the rich". That is, they are likely to agree to an extension of already historically long unemployment benefits in order to extend upper-upper class tax cuts that most of the general public doesn't favor extending. Although many favor an extension of unemployment benefits, there is an argument to be made that such length extensions, while helping some truly needy people, are also distorting the job market and preventing growth.

But then, I may be one of the few Republicans who doesn't see the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250k as being a good place to spend political capital. Especially when a 15% reduction in corporate taxes, instead, might create more jobs. Or (my personal preference) the tax cuts for the wealthy could be allowed to expire in return for much deeper tax cuts for the middle class, so your average family has an extra $1000-$1500 to spend (this tax cut would be more expensive than just letting the rich keep their tax cut, but would force Democrats to put their money where their mouths are and, if passed, would inject at least as much money into the economy, if not more, than preserving the tax cuts for the rich, thus benefitting everybody--and being much more politically popular, to boot).

How the freshmen Republicans do remains to be seen. I do know that we've got some stand outs (Marco Rubio, among others) that are worth having, no matter what. So . . . over all, it's a good thing. I just hope you're analysis is right, and my cynicism (they're all crooks and liars!) will prove to be unfounded.

@Henri: "It is genuinely refreshing to witness a precipitous drop in hyperbole and ad hominem attacks in the readers' commentary here"

Well, that's because other WaPo bloggers haven't recently linked to any articles, like they did when she first debuted. Greg Sargent gave her a link at the outset, and numerous people who feel the WaPo is already too conservative (and for whom Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent aren't nearly liberal enough) came over to complain. But they aren't going to stay and keep reading "stupid conservative ideas". Jennifer is too thoughtful, and not nearly extreme enough, to support the favored liberal impression of conservatives as frothing-at-the-mouth goofballs. So they won't keep coming by, unless she brings on the birtherism.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | December 6, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Actually Jennifer, I think you may be correct - most of what I've heard from the House GOP in particular gives me hope that they 'get it.' I'm just rather used to being disappointed. Overall the GOP in the last 2 years has pretty much hung together against Obama and the far left, which I think deserves some recognition. Being the party of 'no' is fine and dandy with me when the other side is saying 'yes' to European-style, social democratic stagnation and mediocrity!

Posted by: jmpickett | December 6, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Let me respond to Eric's and JM's thoughts.

The unsuitable candidates you see act as a marker to the Nat'l R Party. Its a 'we really mean it' moment, and it may have cost in the shortrun, but its an investment.

You're going to get hung for a goat, as well as for a sheep, so why not take the one that tastes better? Full-On, No Compromise Conservatism will Enthuse the Base, and that enthusiasm brings Independents to the R Party.

Posted by: Tennwriter | December 6, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Great analysis. I'm very glad the Post has hired Jennifer Rubin.

Posted by: junomoneta88 | December 6, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I agreed with JMPickett's response, and then decided I could do no better.

On the "social issues". In New York, it was the Democrats who were forced to highlight "protecting reproductive rights" as their major campaign theme in every statewide contest due to the unique situation where they did not want to highlight anything about the economy (especially the expansive New York Medicaid fiscal crisis as proxy for Obamacare), and also needed to drive up voter turnout in NYC. It worked.

All the more reason for the GOP to try really hard to let the Democrats be the ones who appear to be ignoring the economy in order to advance their "social agenda" as a Federal imperative.

I think this could well be the TEA Party infused GOP's achilles heel during the presidential primaries. Leave it to the states.

I write this as a fiscal conservative still wondering what happened to the Democrat's "big tent".

Posted by: K2K2 | December 6, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Cheers for Jennifer, who seems willing to listen, but I hope the comments section here won't become a rahrah section for social conservatives only. The Republican party needs to embrace its libertarians, too -- you know, the true believers in the-smaller-the-better government.

Posted by: Aurora62 | December 6, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Morning serving of horse manure from the horse's butt conservative viewpoint.

Nearly $3,000,000,000.00 was spent last election. The big-spending corps and plutocrats failed to win in Connecticut spending $97 per vote for the loser.

Meg Whitman spent $160,000,000.00 of her own money and lost big. Carly Fiorina spent large out of her billion dollar fortune and lost large. The republican beastiality porn emailer lost in NY govs race despite his millions.

The only big win for the billionaire set was Florida elected a medicare fraudster millionaire.

Congress lost seats to the tidal wave of CITIZENS UNITED dirty cash, but in two years that can change just as big.

The TeePee Party, front for billionaires David Koch and his Koch-Suckers, and Rupert Murdoch and his Foxy liars, lost Alaska, to a write-in fer gawd's sakes, lost Delaware, lost Colorado, lost Nevada, lost NY gov, lost Conn, winning only Kentucky based on Ron Paul's coattails, not based on Rand Paul's politics.

You don't have so much to brag about losing so many top ticket posts, winning only the House and half the governorship.

Even NY 23 stayed democrat after that special election bru-ha-ha from a few months back. The repigs never recovered a seat they held since the civil war.

Your tidal wave of cash is over. It didn't work well, and now we know how to defeat it next time. You only had one chance and you failed to win as big as you needed.

It wouldn't matter if Meg spent a billion next time around. Or 2 billion, or 3.

Posted by: Liann | December 6, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm a socon, that means I favor fiscal morality as well as life related morality. Life is more important than money, just as a murderer is a worse criminal than a thief, but both deserve punishment.

Jennifer is right, morals form the basis of fiscal rectitude.

Whitman and Fiorina are proof that self-funded RINOs don't do well. True enough. If your side responds with Lamberts like the guy who lost to Lieberman, you'll find this too.

The Tea Party did great, OTOH.

Posted by: Tennwriter | December 6, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I think the idea of leaving gay and abortion issues to the states is probably the way to go. Trying to force a one size fits all solution on the country via the USSC is problematic to say the least! For the record, I'm pro-traditional marriage, think 'gay marriage' is an oxymoron, and find abortion a loathsome practice. But I'm sensitive to gay people in particular who feel very strongly on the issue...that their rights are being withheld from them.

Posted by: jmpickett | December 6, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

If Liann cannot even acknowledge that the Tea Party is a true grassroots movement of concerned citizens, I think he/she is better served staying on the EJ Dionne/Sargent side of Wash.

And they did quite well in the election. Results are what matter, though, we'll see in 2011 what the tea party-backed candidates do. Taking the Senate in 2010 was going to be very difficult, considering the states involved. Watch out in 2012 -- whole bunch of 'moderate' Democrats are up.

Posted by: jmpickett | December 6, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

jmpickett, Be careful what you call a "right." No one has a "right" to any marriage (gay or otherwise). It's a privelege, not a right. It's something that the state bestows upon you, not something that that is a birth right (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness). The gay communinty demands the state recognizes their gay marriage and bestows the same benefits to gay couples as to traditional married couples.

However, the problem with this is that no state wants gay marriage. I think the subject has been on ballot questions 35 times across the nation and not a single time has it passed. What kind of country are we to become when the minority is dictating to the majority what the laws will be?

I'm against gay marriage because I fear that polygamy is next, which to me sounds like sharia-creep (which would be violently against homosexuality). Also, I believe polygamy is inherently discriminitory towards women. Not to mention that the taxpayers would likely be responsible for health insurance and the like for the govt employed polygamist and his massive family. I'm also against it because who's to say that people won't be permitted to marry their pet goat someday? If said goat wanders into the street and I hit it with my car, can I be sued for that?

This may all sound ridiculous, but if you told someone in the 1950s that there was going to be gay marriage in the 1990s, they would have written you off as a lunatic.

For what it's worth, I support the "civil union" concept with benefits to gay partners equivalent to that of traditional marriages. Keep the term "marriage" out of the equation as the word is atomic in this regard. I will also accept gay marriage if and when the citizenry vote to have it (and it's not imposed by judicial fiat). However, I would fear that ramifications down the line would be undesirable and it ultimately would be a mistake.

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | December 6, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I will add that regarding things as "rights" is something that the Left has successfully cemented into our national discourse. The "right" to health care, the "right" to own a home, the "right" to a good job. We should resist this narrative and point out that no one has a "right" to such things. They merely have the right to freely pursue such things as they wish.

FDR had his "Four Freedoms." The first two were freedom OF speech and religion. That is all well and good. His second two were freedom FROM "want" and FROM "fear." That is a classic progressive mindset. The govt can and should only protect freedom OF... It should have nothing to do with freedom FROM... Once the govt delves into deciding what we are to be free "from," then statism has gotten its foot in the door as has its close companion - tyranny.

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | December 6, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Excellent post, Jennifer. You have such an orderly, incisive mind and write so clearly. i read you everyday at Contentions.

I agree with all of this, but I think your next to last paragraph is an important observation that most have overlooked. The Tea Party isn't just about economics and fiscal responsibility in the narrow sense. It's about moral hazard in the broader sense -- the idea that bailouts and government takeovers are eroding the self-reliance and liberty that are essential to a free society.

Posted by: eoniii | December 6, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse


At the time of the Declaration, and again in the Constitution, none of those things were recognized as "rights" either, until a new governnment of ours spelled them out.

While I agree that the term is generally overused, please don't tell me that everything got sealed up in 1789, and nothing is allowed to change.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 6, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

54465446, I won't say that nothing is allowed to change (which in the broadest sense is accounted for with the Amendment process). However, the more and more the govt involves itself in our lives, the more liberty we give up and the more indebted we become. Govt involving itself in the lives of the citizenry may well be a good thing here and there. However, we'd be better off if the federal govt limited itself strictly to what the Constitution says than having the overweening behemoth we have now.

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | December 6, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Ritchie, while that is a credible point of view, I do not share it. I believe the government has grown is response to various problems that required a uniquely Federal solution, not in all cases but in most.

Thanks for the reply, we will meet again!

Posted by: 54465446 | December 6, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: lindamckee | December 7, 2010 4:58 AM | Report abuse

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