Have Democrats Forgotten the Election Already?

by Stuart Rothenberg December 15, 2010 · 9:48 AM EST

Many House Democrats apparently figure that November’s elections had nothing to do with them, their agenda or their leadership.

Sure, their party lost 63 House seats, with voters more than wiping out the Democratic gains from 2006 and 2008 and rejecting their argument that the election was a choice between going “forward” with Democrats or going “backward” with Republicans.

But is that a reason to change the House leadership team or lower their voices on issues that they’ve been talking about for months? Is that a reason to show some humility during a lame-duck session coming after the worst midterm election defeat in more than 60 years? Why on earth would anyone think so?

Part of the party’s problem is that too many Democrats blame President Barack Obama, the unemployment rate or “outside” GOP money for their party’s defeat.

Yes, the election was a statement about Obama, and Republican money was a factor in some races. And, of course, the unemployment rate was a problem. But exactly whose fault was that? Oh, right, it was the Republicans’ fault. Oh, I see.

Well, the voters didn’t see it that way, and for me, that’s all that matters.

The most recent evidence of Democratic amnesia is the compromise on extending the Bush-era tax cuts and extending unemployment insurance.

Most Democrats have opposed an across-the-board extension of the Bush tax cuts for many months, portraying them as “giveaways” to millionaires or, as one Democratic Member of Congress put it, billionaires.

Given that rhetoric, it isn’t surprising that many House Democrats reacted swiftly — and with anger and strong opposition — to the White House’s announcement of a deal with the GOP.

Democrats from Reps. John Conyers (Mich.) and Peter Welch (Vt.) to Jay Inslee (Wash.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) threw down the gauntlet to the president, protesting the compromise and demanding a better deal, particularly on the estate tax.

They wonder how the president could have been such a horrible negotiator. How could he have caved to Republicans? How could he have compromised on a matter of Democratic principle, especially when Democrats hold a huge majority during the lame-duck session?

On one level, it’s entirely reasonable for liberal Democrats to oppose the compromise. Those Democrats have different priorities and values than Republicans, and many of them represent very liberal constituents who also oppose the compromise.

Nobody — nobody — is saying that those House liberals should change their views. If they want to vote against the package that the president negotiated with Congressional Republicans, that’s their right.

But the outrage by House liberals, many of whom were responsible for the party’s legislative agenda and for Congress’ earlier inaction on the tax cuts, is more than a little hard to take.

Congressional Democrats had two years to address the Bush tax cuts. They certainly could have dealt with them one way or the other between late April 2009 and mid-January 2010, when the party had a 60-seat majority in the Senate and a huge majority in the House.

In September, the House ducked a vote on the tax cuts because plenty of Democrats wanted to avoid taking a stand before the elections, especially since they were wisely suspicious of what the Senate would, or would not, do.

Why should these Democrats show some legislative humility? Because the Democratic majority has been rejected by voters, and Democrats ought to behave that way.

All you needed to do to see the self-delusion was to watch Democrats appearing on TV over the weekend. On CNN, Reps. Jim McDermott (Wash.) and Elijah Cummings (Md.) sounded no different than they did before November. The same held for Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

For House Democrats to act as if nothing changed on Nov. 2 is nuts. Totally nuts.

Of course, some on the right — Republicans such as Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and groups such as the Club for Growth — are also complaining about the deal and urging its defeat. At least they can claim that the election results demonstrated that voters agreed with their approach.

For too many ideologues, both on and off Capitol Hill, compromise is a dirty word, a sign that fundamental principles have been kicked to the curb. Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently refused to use the word during a “60 Minutes” interview.

But compromise is what government is and should be about. It was necessary to start this nation, and it is necessary to respond to the public’s day-to-day demands.

Not every Democrat will like the deal that the White House and Republicans have negotiated. But before House Democrats express their anger and outrage again, they might want to take another look at November’s election results and at their own responsibility for the compromise.