Democrats are beginning to panic as we speed toward the midterm elections. They have good reason to get nervous as they ponder the spectacle — so unlikely a year or so ago — of being reduced once again to a minority in the House of Representatives. The deservedly repudiated Republicans miraculously stand to benefit from the anger of the dispossessed middle class.
These are indeed strange times. Baltimore's own native daughter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is unhappy that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs blurted out a widely known truth Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" when he was asked whether House Democrats could lose their substantial majority and replied that that was entirely possible. This may be the first time a White House press secretary has spoken truthfully in public, though he quickly did the old backstroke when the congressional leaders made their displeasure known.
One can certainly understand why Speaker Pelosi is agitated. Few people willingly cede power, and she certainly wants to cling to hers, the perks of which include luxury air travel to and from her California home, not to mention her new San Francisco office (for which we taxpayers are footing a more than $18,000-per-month rent), nicer digs in the Capitol and the ability to kick butt and take names any time she chooses. She has no reelection worries, being the occupant of a "safe" seat in a hotbed of loony leftism — but being a member, however senior, of the minority party in Congress would be a step way down from the heights she now occupies. Chances are she would then try to exit the Washington scene as soon as she could.
Her retirement would be appealing. Not only to her, either. Many of us would gladly wave goodbye. Since we're mentioning annoying speakers-of-the-House, did you see or hear that Newt Gingrich is moving toward a run for president? Are we to be spared nothing?
So, undeserved spoils might well be enjoyed by a Republican majority in the next Congress, but they'll come at a price. Lawmakers from the Stupid Party should perhaps hope they don't reap such an electoral windfall. The economy is sputtering still, and prospects for the immediate future are bleak. Government stimulus spending has been pretty much exhausted, and it was the only thing propping up the economic numbers.
Rick Newman summed it up in a column a week ago: "The government's potions are starting to wear off. The stimulus spending will gradually wind down over the next couple of years. The Fed has ended its biggest financial maneuver, meant to juice demand for bonds, stocks and other securities. After being extended once, the homebuyer tax credit has expired for good. And with the huge national debt becoming a problem in itself, Congress has begun to shut the door on further aid to the unemployed, strapped state governments, and other supplicants."
Point is, if the Republicans win enough seats to retake majority status, they'll get to own most of the blame for the harsh austerity measures sure to come. They'll have to swallow their pride and agree to substantial tax increases and spending cuts, a poisonous political cocktail indeed. Democrats will attack them as lackeys of Big Bidness and do their best to reclaim the loyalty of the "little people." Perhaps in 2012, another wave of voter anger will sweep them back into legislative power. Gridlock without ownership of this mess is probably the best thing the Republicans can hope for. That can happen if they gain a handful of Senate seats and more than a couple dozen in the House.
Meantime, the current occupant of the White House is looking more and more like Jimmy Carter, and we all know what happened to him. Ronald Reagan rode roughshod over his ambitions for a second term. Alas, the GOP has no Reagan-like figure to run against Mr. Obama. Sarah Palin? I guess I'd take her over Newt. The whole sour thing makes me wax nostalgic for, gulp, Bill Clinton. I'm not kidding.
Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon, on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.