Requiem for the House Democrats


Inquiring minds are upon the WSJ Opinion Journal this evening as John Fund uses an interview with a unique Congressman to illuminate what went wrong with the Pelosi House:

Brian Baird, a six-term Democrat from Washington state. Even though he’s never won re-election with less than 56% of the vote, Mr. Baird is retiring because the brutal congressional commute makes it impossible for him to see his twin five-year-old boys grow up. He’s not sticking around, like so many former members of Congress, to lobby inside the Beltway. That allows him to be candid about Congress and his party.

But before Mr. Fund delves into the Congressman’s views, he sets the backdrop for Tuesday’s election:

It took Democrats in the House of Representatives 40 years to become out-of-touch enough to get thrown out of office in 1994. It took 12 years for the Republicans who replaced them to abandon their principles and be repudiated in 2006. Now it appears that the current Democratic majority has lost voter confidence in only four years.

How did this happen? And what does the increasing speed of voter backlash mean for Republicans who will likely take control next Tuesday?

Mr. Baird doesn’t disappoint. He speaks open and candidly about both the former Republican leadership and today’s Democrat leadership:

“It’s been an authoritarian, closed leadership. That style plus a general groupthink mentality didn’t work when Tom DeLay called the shots,” Mr. Baird says. “We’ve made some of the same damn mistakes, and we were supposed to be better. That’s the heartbreak.”

(…)

Mr. Baird recalls that he was “very excited” when his party took control of Congress in 2006, but he saw ominous signs early on. Before the 2006 election, he says, Mrs. Pelosi had 30 members working on a rules package to make the House more ethical and deliberative. “We abandoned all that work after the election, and leaders told us we should trust them to clean things up. I don’t know a single member of the Democratic caucus who saw the final rules package before they voted on it.”

Democrats also watered down efforts to practice fiscal responsibility. “We initially had numbers a bit more honest than the Republicans—we at least included war costs in the budget,” he says. “Now we’re authorizing programs for three years instead of five in an attempt to pretend we’re saving money.”

When President Obama was elected in 2008, Mr. Baird was again optimistic that Democrats could bring real reform. But fierce Republican partisanship and the White House decision not to focus on job creation as its “number one, two and three” priority dashed that hope.

“Obama decided we weren’t going to have a highway transportation bill because it might have required a gas tax increase,” he recalls. After passing a misdirected stimulus bill, Mr. Obama made the fatal error of pushing forward with other priorities: cap and trade, financial services reform, ObamaCare. Each became compromised quickly.

For some of the shortcomings of financial regulatory reform, Mr. Baird blames the disillusioning battle over ObamaCare. “When the House had to pass the Senate version of health care unchanged, some members asked why should they invest the mental effort in mastering the details” of financial reform. Mr. Baird found parts of the bill mind-numbing.”

Congressman Baird needs to figure out how to step up and communicate his true feelings, don’t you think?

A big “thank you” to Congressman Baird for his canidness on the last four years of boorish House behavior.

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