The GOP sweep and what it means
Last week's election was one that requires a bit of reflection.
After a week of doing that, here are a few of the lessons many politicians should (but probably won't) heed. There are plenty more lessons than what are listed here -- these are just mine.
First, Democrats will search high and low for a reason this happened, but ignore the obvious: it was a very concerted effort of the electorate to put a stop to their power because the voters feel they went too far. Either by a grand design or just dumb luck, the American electorate seems to like divided government, and gets a little jittery when one party has too much of the power. Witness Minnesota's state government: after decades, the GOP swept to power in both the House and Senate, but barring the discovery of 8,000 votes in somebody's trunk or something, there will be a DFL governor and a GOP Legislature.
Part of many people's objection to how the state government has functioned over the past decade or so is the power seems to have been too concentrated -- the Senate Majority Leader, Speaker of the House, Senate Minority Leader, House Minority Leader and the governor would negotiate most of the big decisions. The problem was, with the exception of the governor, most of those people hadn't been voted for in any sort of statewide election -- only local ones. We elect representatives to have a diversity of opinion and experiences. We don't elect five people to run the whole show. But now we could see all five change over, and it's a good time for a new rank-and-file in the Legislative branch to reassert itself.
Another lesson is that voters don't like one party's ideology to be written into law. Whether it was Keynesian-style stimulus plans, cap-and-trade legislation or the hulkingly huge Health Care Reform Act, it was clear this was one party's solution to those problems and Republicans were seldom or never consulted for their solutions. That lesson may fall on deaf ears to the GOP now, because being swept into power has an intoxicating effect of making one believe everything they hold dear is now in favor. Chances are Republicans will go too far now, and the electorate may punish them later for it.
However, here's another lesson: the GOP does have a clear mandate now to work on the big issues. It's like the coach who turns to his hot rookie quarterback and says, "I'm putting you in, kid. Let's see what you can do."
Deficit reduction seems to be at the top of the voters' list -- and if we could ever accomplish that, we could even start talking about debt reduction. But mere hours after the election, old guard GOP members were talking about tax cuts as their top agenda item, which would run contrary to deficit reduction. The Tea Party members seem pretty resolute to balance (or better) the federal budget. So the real fight to watch in Washington will probably be between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party over raising the debt ceiling. This is good and healthy, because that's the exact debate America should be having at this time in her history.
Perhaps a GOP agenda in the Congress and a Democratic president will be good for the economy. When Gingrich and company stormed the House in 1994, no one would describe the Contract with America Republicans and Democratic President Bill Clinton as bosom buddies. However, it did produce one of the most sustained and greatest advancing economies the world has witnessed.
The GOP could also easily overplay its hand by focusing on lightning-rod social issues instead of devoting its attention to the economy. That would be the sort of mistake the Democrats just made, but it's hard to avoid.
And maybe this is the biggest lesson of all: when Washington or St. Paul are arguing over real issues like taxes, immigration, education or the environment -- and not arguing over who loves the flag more or hates the terrorists more -- that substantive debate can actually produce policy that works for America.
Or maybe not, and voters will show up in 2012 with a "throw the bums out" mood again. But the GOP has earned two years to work its magic, and could be rewarded by voters if it has learned the lessons of the past.
The Pioneer Journal editorial is the collective voice of the newspaper's editorial board. Today's editorial was written by Steve Schulz, editor and publisher.