Sometimes clichés become old clichés because they have enduring value. Here’s one that puts the consequences of the 2010 election in perspective: “Timing is everything.” That is because the Democrats didn’t just lose hundreds of important elections here in Ohio and across the nation, they lost the future as well.
Of course some may argue that I’m being far too pessimistic. After all, we have elections every two years, and candidates always say that the next election is the most important one that’s ever been held. Often such rhetoric is pure hyperbole. But the truth is that there are elections and then there are ELECTIONS—like the one in 2010.
2010 was one of those elections because people around the country not only voted for candidates, they also decided who would control the process of drawing new state legislative and Congressional district lines based on the results of the just-concluded Census. And, as any student of American history will acknowledge, the party that draws the lines—that “holds the pencil” to use the vernacular–employing a combination of gerrymandering, state-of-the-art technology, and the exercise of raw political power almost always dominates public policy formation for the next decade, if not longer.
In case you haven’t noticed, the GOP won the pencil and the nearly limitless power that goes with it.
Was it just bad and/or dumb luck that caused the Democrats to catch a serious beating at the polls in this critical election? Was it the brilliance of the GOP’s platform and marvelous campaigning that convinced working and middle-class Americans to once again vote against their own self-interest after two straight cycles in they seemed to have finally read and understood Thomas Franks’s seminal work, What’s the Matter With Kansas?
Of course not.
Fact is, Democrats lost because Democrats—and particularly the Obama administration–blew it. Bad policies, worse messaging, and disastrous strategic planning and execution enabled the GOP, pronounced dead in the wake of the Democratic deluge of 2008, to convince voters that liberalism had failed—even though the Obama administration’s policies were abhorred as much if not more by the left than the right.
It didn’t matter that Obama was not a liberal, however, because Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, and other conservative talking heads along with the GOP House and Senate caucuses and the business community, managed to convince the electorate that he was. As a result, working- and middle-class voters in Ohio and other states with high jobless rates blamed liberalism for their troubles. On November 2 they voted in droves for Republicans who displayed their gratitude by launching an all-out attack against them on November 3.
In some years the GOP might have feared so quickly turning it guns on the constituency that resurrected them, Lazarus-like, from the political hereafter. After all, screw up the way the Dems had, and the folks who put you in could just as easily toss you out a short 24 months later. Yet, despite the threat of swift retribution at the polls, the GOP charged on boldly, fearlessly, and in the case of new House Speaker John Boehner, often tearfully, promising to do things, including revising Social Security, that would inevitably enrage the working and middles classes.
That’s where the old cliché “Timing is everything” comes in. The GOP rushed ahead because they had just won elections in state after state that would enable them to institutionalize their hold on power and make themselves practically impervious to the changing mood of the electorate. They knew they could safely blast away because they held the pencil and with it the power to draw legislative and Congressional districts they could never lose—no matter how irate the voters might become in the years ahead. They recognized that all things being equal, they wouldn’t, they couldn’t really be held accountable in most states until sometime in 2022, which gave them plenty of time to do what they damn well pleased.
While the CWCS is researching and will release in the spring an extensive study on the effect the 2010 election will have on reapportionment and redistricting and the policy making process across the nation, Ohio serves as a prime example of what everyone else can expect. On November 2 the Democrats lost all statewide offices — they had held three of four going into the election — and with them control of the Apportionment Board. Governor-elect John Kasich—again, why wait until you’re actually in office when you know you’ve got the state by the throat—warned everyone to get on his bus or be run over by it.
Not surprisingly, everyone Mr. Kasich really cared about was already on his bus—it’s a limo really. After all, the guy was a director at Lehman Brothers. The people who have to worry about being run over are public employees including police officers, firefighters, and teachers, poor families who depend on Medicaid for health care, building trades unions and their members, seniors, local governments and libraries that depend on a variety of revenue sharing dollars from the state, and just about anyone else who looks to government for help.
Look closer and you’ll see that there’s a little more method than just an aversion to government in the new governor’s madness. He and the rest of the Republicans know that while holding the power to draw the lines is great, being able to defund the Democratic Party by essentially gutting one of its primary funding sources, public sector unions, is absolutely marvelous. Go after the public sector by privatizing everything in sight and the next thing you know the Dems won’t have the money they need to run even moderately credible campaigns in the few legislative and Congressional districts that may be created in when they draw the lines.
Now there’s a recipe for cooking up a permanent majority both in Columbus and in Washington that’s hard to beat.
And that’s why timing is everything.
Jennings is a political consultant who has worked with the Center for Working-Class Studies on research about working-class voters