Many a college student has tried to cure a hangover by using “the hair of the dog” strategy, i.e. following a hard night of drinking with a few morning drinks. Never mind that science has thoroughly disproven this approach (your hangover is caused by your liver producing a toxic substance called acetaldehyde and dehydration, neither of which is fixed by drinking more booze), college students are willing to try because it sounds a lot better than a pot of coffee and an Alka-Seltzer.
Following their midterm drubbing Democratic leadership seems to be adopting the same approach. Rather than take their medicine and reflect on their poor choices, they are gulping down the hair of the dog that bit them.
This doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise. After all, when asked before the election how things would change should his party lose the Senate majority, Vice President Joe Biden said, “I don’t think we have to change. I think we have to be more direct and clear about what it is we’re trying to do.”
President Obama’s approach was even bolder. POLITICO reported:
“Administration officials tell us that Obama’s political and policy teams are planning a big counterattack if the Republicans win the Senate—introducing a slate of legislative proposals and executive actions on immigration, infrastructure and early childhood education that are popular with the Democratic base and that he will dare the GOP to oppose.
At the time, those comments appeared to be nothing more than some artful political posturing to show their ever-dwindling base that the administration was as fired up and defiant as ever. But that would change in the face of a massive repudiation of his policies and his candidates, right? Wrong. Peggy Noonan writes for the Wall Street Journal:
Common sense says a chastened president would acknowledge the obvious—some things aren’t working, he has made some mistakes—and, in Mr. Obama’s case, hit the reset button with Congress. Reach out, be humble. Humility has power. It shows people that you have some give—you get the message, you are capable of self-correcting.
That is not what he’s doing. The president is instead doubling down on hostility, antagonism and distance.
What a mistake. What a huge, historic mistake, not only for him but also for his party.
In his remarks the best the president could do was to admit that “Republicans had a good night, and they deserve credit for running good campaigns.” But, he couldn’t help pointing out that, “I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody, not just from a particular state or a particular district.”
Rather than reach out to Republican leadership in an effort to get stuff done Obama said that Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Boehner should begin by looking at “the agenda that I’ve put forward.” And on important issues like immigration the president was even less conciliatory, saying, “what I’m not going to do is wait,” and threatening to use executive actions to accomplish his personal goals.
To their discredit, House and Senate Democratic leadership appeared equally tone deaf. Despite overseeing historically large losses in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer have both notified their caucus that they will wage bids to retain their posts. In the Senate, where Harry Reid guided Democrats into the minority, he has already said he will run for minority leader and his leadership team immediately lined up behind him.
This election, if nothing else was about change, it was voters telling one party that they weren’t governing as intended, weren’t focusing on the right priorities, and weren’t getting the results needed. But despite the president assurance to voters that, “I want you to know that I hear you,” it’s clear that he absolutely didn’t. As Noonan explains:
It’s as if he doesn’t think he has to work with others, he only has to be right. I think Mr. Obama sees himself as a centrist because he often resists the pressures of the leftward-most edge of his base. Therefore in his imagination he is in the middle, the center. If he is in the middle of a great centrist nation, how can they turn on him? The answer: They are confused. This is their flaw, not his. He’s not going to let their logical flaws change his game.
But in the end, this hubris is Obama’s tragic flaw. It’s cost him dearly in two straight midterm elections. And unless he changes soon, it could cost Democrats everything in two short years.