Before I start with the meat of my column, I’d like to put in my two cents about the story of the week, the shootings in Tucson, Arizona. I don’t have much to say that’s very insightful that many, many others haven’t already said, so I’ll quickly sum up the smart points I’ve heard and read.
The most immediate response to the shooting from many was to blame over-heated rhetoric, especially violent rhetoric on the right. However, there just is not any evidence that suggests the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was influenced by right wing talk; his mental health (or lack thereof) seems to be the main driver of his rampage. That said, I do believe the rhetoric in our politics has become dangerous and hampers the government’s ability to do the people’s work; this argument does not need a murderer to strengthen its point.
Two issues that are also getting play but have not been as prominent are: one, the effectiveness and breadth of the mental health treatment system in this country, and two, gun rights. I am far from well-versed in the way areas of the country look out for and treat the mentally ill, but I know Arizona’s mental health services are comparatively weak and we clearly need to do a better job of recognizing and acting on red flags. On gun rights, if we’ve decided that we can’t outlaw any guns, we need to at least make it much harder to obtain one. The fact that it is harder to get a driver’s license than to own a gun seems absurd.
With that said, on to the story, or in this case, a critique of a big past story. Something I’ve really enjoyed seeing over the past few weeks as the year has turned has been pundits and columnists going over things they had written or said over the past year that have either been shown to be wrong, or at least need to be amended. I think this practice creates much more accountability for an industry that has recently seemed like it could use a lot more. In that vein, having been writing for this paper for exactly a year now, I’d like to take the opportunity to re-examine a column I wrote in the past, and the longer-held belief that went with it.
On Nov. 5, I wrote a column titled “The Only Number that Matters.” My basic point was that the unemployment rate, not a national backlash against liberalism or any philosophy for that matter, was the only reason for Democratic losses in the November election. Now, there is debate about which economic indicators affect elections more. However, my bigger point was that the economy is what matters, not anything else.
While I still think the economy was the primary driver, various statistical analyses have shown there was indeed more to it. Specifically, a piece by New York Times political blogger and statistical guru Nate Silver showed that Democratic losses were greater than an election purely based off of the economy would have yielded. In addition, Silver finds, votes on Health Care Reform and TARP (the bank bailout) hurt Democrats as well. He writes, “This simple analysis would conclude, then, that Democrats were punished by voters for their bailout and health care votes.” While he does add the caveat that “there are inherent limitations to this sort of analysis,” he concludes by saying, “It does seem fairly clear, however, that individual Democrats who voted against the health care bill — and the bailout extension – overperformed those who did in otherwise similar districts who voted for them, and it seems probable that these votes also damaged the electoral standing of Democrats over all.”
This leads to probably the biggest thing I’ve been wrong about over the past year: that health care reform would fade from people’s minds after it was passed. For most of the reform process, my belief was that when people realized that it isn’t really a socialist takeover and that there are no death panels, they would stop caring and actually support it. It is probably one of the strongest beliefs that I have held over the past year, and it’s been dead wrong so far.
In fact, a recent Gallup poll showed that 46 percent of Americans support repealing the law, while only 40 percent do not. Perhaps people would have supported the same law had the economy been healthy when it was passed, but this wasn’t the case. People clearly still do not like the reform law, and it was a part of the reason Democrats lost so badly in November.
Thinking that just focusing on policy, letting reform ride out, and assuming people would forget about it when it turns out not to be the boogeyman, has turned out to be a very poor assumption. Furthermore, this realization has forced me to clarify my thoughts.
Recently, I noted that the Democrats’ strategy has seemed to be: pass unpopular legislation that they know will help in the long run, get destroyed in elections in the short run, and just spend the whole medium run fighting to prevent repeal. While I still do believe that the long run should always be the primary concern of policymakers, Democrats should understand that there are events in the medium run, the consequence of which was them losing an election, that have negative ramifications for the long run as well. There are decisions that need to be made in the next two years that very well might not be, and they will hurt us in the future. The election forced me to reconcile this fact, and I hope other Democrats have started to understand this, too.
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