Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has a horrible reputation for "gaffes" that highlight Republican missteps in the glare of the media. But there was a nugget of truth in his election night comments that many in the mainstream media missed or ignored.
American voters are not merely displaying Republican tendencies in 2010 after siding with the Democrats in 2008, he said, but they are showing that, more than anything, they are clearly angry at what they are getting from their political leaders today.
That is a lesson that, after this week's elections, should resonate in the halls of both the DNC and the RNC. Hopefully that will bring about a change in how politics are conducted in Washington over the next two years. The American people have now given the Democrats the same message they handed Republicans with the election of President Obama in 2008: The era of tolerating partisan bickering is over. Voters want results from their elected officials, or they want new elected officials — simple as that.
The results Tuesday showed that America is willing to treat equally — when it comes to accountability at the polls — both the Obama-led Democrats (and the historic achievement of his 2008 election) and the Tea Party-driven Republicans (with their own historic populist movement in tow). The lesson for the triumphant Republicans is one that Steele has been preaching: Republicans better focus on results on Capitol Hill and in the gubernatorial mansions of the nation, lest they fall victim to another cycle of instant political accountability in 2012.
If the initial rhetoric from Republican leadership in Congress is any indication, the GOP may learn the hard way, despite the warning from their own camp. The Republican sweep on Tuesday was not an indictment of the Obama agenda, although the failure of this White House and its allies to direct the narrative on the legislative front and focus on the "kitchen table" issues for Americans (namely, jobs, not health care, as a top priority) certainly played a role in the election night debacle.
The trap for Republicans is the temptation to keep politics personal for the next two years. The calls from Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and others to go after Obamacare immediately after these wins is risky behavior that has plenty of potential for backfiring on the GOP. The move already reeks of a personal attack on the president — if for no other reason than the tone of the comments. If the agenda for the Republican-led House of Representatives is going to be eerily similar in the tone to what came from the Pelosi-led House in the 111th Congress, nothing in Washington will change.
Should the Republicans insist on jamming through political statements that defy the president and the minority party with little hope of passing meaningful legislation, the American electorate will determine that there is little difference between the ethics of the Pelosi-led chamber and that of this newest version. And if the American voters feel that these chambers are, in essence, the same in their behavior and intent, the electorate will once again treat the Republicans in 2012 with the same disgust they displayed toward Democrats in 2010 — and Republicans of 2006 and 2008.
With this equality of treatment in place, it may turn out that the target of this misguided strategy — President Obama — will get the last laugh, since he will also benefit from equal treatment by the voters: namely, finding a way to come back just as Bill Clinton did in 1996 after taking a shellacking of his own during the midterms of 1994.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of the morning radio show Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister on WVON, The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM. He is the author of an upcoming edition of the book The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative), due out in the fall. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.