President Bush described it best when he said he had gotten a “thumping” in last week’s elections. There is no denying the shift in Congressional control represents a devastating repudiation of his failed conservative polices. Voters rejected not only the President’s handling of the Iraq war. They rejected corrupt governance, record growth in economic disparity, skyrocketing health care costs and gas prices, and demanded a return to policies that restore government to the people and help all of Americans get ahead.
The loss is likely to have damaging repercussions for the Republican Party for years to come. But it also gives the President Bush a shot at redemption. In many ways, the loss of Congress has wiped the slate clean for President Bush. He has the freedom to remake himself in the eyes of the voters, because circumstances have forced him to remake himself.
Twelve years ago the nation faced a similar sweeping shift in Congress. Jennifer was in the West Wing that night in November of 1994 when the Democrats lost both the House and the Senate. So grim did President Clinton’s political future appear that the first-term President was forced to defend his “relevance” in a post-election press conference. But after admitting to failures in his first two years in office, President Clinton found a way to make the new Congress his partner in measures like welfare reform, his foil in battles like the 1995 budget shutdown, and even to win re-election.
To turn his own presidency around, a “mea culpa” from Bush isn’t likely to be enough. He will have to implement a true change in strategy for Iraq and demonstrate an inclination and ability to work with Congress in a bipartisan manner. For a White House seemingly powered on nothing but message-discipline to the point of delusion, such an admission and switch in policy may be beyond its reach. But the resignation of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is a hopeful indication that the Bush White House may have finally gotten the message.
Ironically, the President is likely to find the new leaders in Congress more willing to work with him than the members of his own party. Progressives in Congress now have an opportunity to do something that hasn’t happened on Capitol Hill for years — proactively govern. Americans have signaled that they are ready for a progressive vision government- a government that is committed to the common good, shared and personal responsibility, and finding opportunity for everyone.
The incoming leadership has made it known that in the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress they will tackle issues such as raising the minimum wage, implementing the 9/11 commission recommendations, lowering prescription drug costs and making college more affordable. Each of these items are critically needed fixes which will help families that are struggling to make ends meet and help restore some faith in government’s ability to live up to its responsibilities.
The President and the Congress should follow up this initial package of reforms with a robust 100 day agenda which will take additional concrete steps to strengthen our security, remove barriers to economic growth for the middle class, and restore our fiscal health.
Next week, the Center for American Progress will lay out its vision for a progressive 100 day agenda, with new ideas on Iraq and national security, energy security, and economic and domestic policy. These policy ideas tackle some of the most pressing matters that face the American people. And these are ideas that can, and should be embraced by the new Congress and President Bush.
The opportunities afforded by a new Congress give the President a true shot at redemption. But he and the Congress will need to act quickly — the last six years have caused a lot of damage and the American people will want to see a noticeable change. In those first 100 days, the new Congress can show the American public that it accepts the mandate placed before it, and will confront the very real problems Americans face today with progressive solutions.
President Bush need not fret. Rather, he should look upon the elections as an opportunity for a new beginning, not a loss. After all, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”