President Barack Obama's decision to dismiss the midterm "shellacking" as a mere failure to communicate, combined with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bid to remain her party's leader in Congress, is triggering an outcry from both sides of the aisle that the administration perhaps doesn't really "get" the extent of the voter frustration that led his party to the worst midterm drubbing in modern political history.
From The New York Times to the tea parties to the halls of Congress, critics are warning that, if Democrats have the same national leaders — Obama, Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — it will be much harder to recast themselves anew with voters and convince them that they're really listening.
"With President Obama proving to be a surprisingly diffident salesman of his own work, congressional Democrats need a new champion to stand against a tightly disciplined Republican insurgency," the Times editorialized on Monday in a surprising reaction to the news that Pelosi is looking to hold onto power.
"I haven't talked to anybody who thinks like this is a great idea," Time magazine political correspondent and author Mark Halperin said on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” show. "There were a few people who thought she's entitled to do this."
Halperin said Pelosi remains the best fundraiser among congressional Democrats, and that her supporters see no reason she should take the fall over the midterm debacle. They point out that Obama and Reid, who pushed the same policies, have emerged relatively unscathed.
However, Mark McKinnon, the Bush-era communications strategist, dismissed Pelosi's bid to hold onto power as "selfish."
McKinnon tells Newsmax that Pelosi's decision reminds him of the argument Obama tried to make during the campaign that Republicans had "driven the car into the ditch." Now, Pelosi will be an albatross for Democrats, he predicts.
"The car in the ditch now has Pelosi license plates," McKinnon says.
In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, made it plain that Republicans see Pelosi as an inadvertent ally who will complicate the president's aim of bringing independents, seniors, and women back into the Democratic fold in time for the 2012 elections.
"It's almost as if [Democrats] didn't get the message," Cantor remarked.
Cantor, who is on track to become the majority leader in the new Congress, told Fox of Pelosi: "This is the woman who . . . puts ideology first, and there have been no results for the American people. And that seems the direction they want to take again. It just doesn't make sense."
Pelosi's voting bloc may be able to weather an adverse Times editorial. But the post-election reaction from Democrats is drawing brickbats from conservatives:
- Columnist Jack Kelly of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said Obama's response to the will of the voters has been so weak it may encourage Democrats to challenge him in the 2012 primary. "With Mr. Obama willing to make only cosmetic changes to his agenda, we're headed for two years of gridlock," he predicted.
- Columnist Victor Davis Hanson wrote in the National Review that the president "just cannot admit that his radical policies and their effects on the economy are the cause of his devastating political rebuke."
- Former Bush aide Peter Wehner noted that, although pundits saw the election as a referendum on the president's policies "his big takeaway was not to re-litigate his agenda."
The growing controversy over whether Democrats have fully absorbed the depth of the voters' rebuke stems in part from the “60 Minutes” interview with the president that aired Sunday.
Obama said the election was "first and foremost" a referendum on the poor economy. Asked by CBS correspondent Steve Kroft whether any of the voters' ire might stem from administration policies that contributed to an unprecedented expansion of big government, the president reiterated that he had been forced to take emergency measures to rescue the economy, and that might have given the American people the misimpression that he sought to expand the role of government.
"What I didn't effectively, I think, drive home, because we were in such a rush to get this stuff done, is that we were taking these steps not because of some theory that we wanted to expand government," Obama said. "It was because we had an emergency situation and we wanted to make sure the economy didn't go off a cliff.
Tea Party Express founder Sal Russo tells Newsmax, however, that no matter what politicians in Washington may say, there is no way they can escape the political reality of a 61-seat GOP landslide.
"I'm confident that the message has been delivered in Washington, D.C. Look at the Democrats like [Democratic West Virginia Sen.-elect Joe] Manchin that won. He's going out with a gun shooting a cap-and-trade bill on camera to prove how much he disagrees with the Obama agenda."
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