2010 is similar to 1994 in that Americans are frustrated with the pace of economic recovery, and out-of-power conservatives appear to be more energized than progressives conflicted about compromises.
But there are two big differences between the 2010 midterm elections and the last time we had a midterm election during the first term of a Democratic president.
One is that this is the most right-wing field of Republican candidates in modern history. Never have there been so many candidates openly disdainful of Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and the minimum wage.
The other is that the ’09-’10 Congress was much more successful in passing major reforms than the ’93-’94 Congress.
So far, we’ve seen Democrats very willing to highlight the extreme statements of their conservative challengers, but hesitant about touting their own achievements.
That may be changing, particularly when it comes to health care.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne notes today that Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.), Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.) and Rep. Dina Titus (Nev.) all have campaign ads touting their votes for the health care bill, specifically stressing the provision to end discrimination against people with preexisting conditions.
Sen. Feingold goes after his opponent the hardest, saying he would “put insurance companies back in control.”
In addition to the ads that Dionne mentioned, which emphasize the preexisting conditions provision, there are a few other notable ads that embrace the health care debate.
Sen. Harry Reid has a tough ad criticizing his opponent for arguing against mandating insurers to cover procedures such as mammograms.
And Jack Conway, running against Rand Paul for the currently Republican-held Senate seat in Kentucky, said during yesterday’s Fox News Sunday debate he would have voted for health care reform had he been a senator. Further, he’s running an ad criticizing Paul to backing a $2,000 deductible for Medicare.
Support for the health reform law had already risen to 49% last month. Will a more forceful posture from campaigning congresspeople further improve the law’s standing?
If Democrats say nothing about what the actual health-care law does, the parody is all that will stick in voters’ minds. Its champions rarely talk about the measure as a whole because it will take longer than a brief election campaign to clean off all the mud that’s been splattered on this baby, which is still tainted by the ugly, drawn-out process that produced it. Instead, like Feingold, Israel and Titus, the bill’s backers break it apart to extol the specific things it does that few voters want to repeal.
There are political risks in enacting major reforms, as well as ducking growing problems. The congressional majority chose to take the risk of action instead of inaction.
But once you take that risk, it only makes sense to make the case for your actions.
Because you can’t win an argument unless you make one.
And the biggest difference between 2010 and 1994 is that incumbent reformers have more arguments to make.