Appearing on Face the Nation Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said
“People who supported us – political independents – want it repealed and replaced with something else. I think we owe it to them to try.”
As we noted last week, the interpretation of the election as a mandate to repeal health reform is dubious at best. According to the National Election Pool’s exit polls, 28 percent of midterm voters were independents, 56 percent of whom voted for Republican candidates. That equates to 15.7 percent of midterm voters being independents who cast their ballots for GOP House candidates. Meanwhile, 62 percent of voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the country, compared to 18 percent who said health care was the most important. (Of this 18 percent, 52 % voted for Democrats.)
Some crosstabs of the exit polls could settle this very clearly, but even without them, it’s really, really hard to make the case based on the data that we do have that independent voters want the GOP to repeal health care. Throughout the health care debate FPL, independent experts and faith leaders played a key role in fact-checking false claims about health care reform. Based on the claims made by anti-reform leaders in the wake of the election, our work on this front isn’t over.
After Lee exposes Reed’s misrepresentation of the law and refusal to endorse any alternate proposals, Reed’s only response is denial:
TP: My question was, 45,000 people die because of lack of health insurance. That’s a pro-life issue to cover people with health insurance. What do you think this new majority should do to cover this crisis? There is a healthcare crisis. [...]
REED: I’m not sure that you’re statistic is accurate.
In a press conference touting his Faith and Freedom Coalition’s success in driving Christian conservatives to vote for Republicans in the mid-term election, Ralph Reed made a particular point of noting the work he and allies did to defeat pro-life Democrats like Kathy Dahlkemper, Steve Driehaus and others.
Reed justified working against these Members of Congress principally on the false claim that the health care reform bill they supported would lead to “unrestricted taxpayer funding for abortion.”
Though independent experts have consistently debunked this claim, Reed is so confident he’s right, his only explanation for why pro-life Congresspeople of good faith would disagree with him is that they are unprincipled puppets of their party leadership.
“If you claim to be a pro-life Democrat but you voted consistently with Nancy Pelosi…and against your pro-life convictions, you pay a price at the ballot box.”
In reality these representatives stood up for their pro-life principles when it mattered the most — when sticking to them would help save lives, even though it would also result in the steep political price of unrelenting false attacks from partisan operatives like Ralph Reed.
Predictably, conservative opponents of health care reform are spinning Tuesday’s election as a mandate to repeal “Obamacare” (a serious discussion about an issue of such gravity would eschew such name-calling, but I digress). Here’s Jay Sekulow writing in The Hill’s Congress Blog:
The reverberations are still being felt from Election Day. Sweeping changes coming to Congress and a new call to repeal ObamaCare – the health care law that many believe was forced upon Americans – a health care law that is government-run and fails the American people in many ways.
Americans repeatedly have expressed concern and opposition to the health care law. And, a growing majority say that want it repealed. The well-respected Rasmussen Reports conducted exit polls and found that 59% of those who voted on Election Day favor repealing ObamaCare – numbers that have been pretty consistent since the troubling health care measure was passed in March.
And, many of the Democrat candidates who ran in House races found out first-hand that ObamaCare is not only unpopular, it can be toxic when running for office. The Hill reported that in many cases a vote for ObamaCare translated into a defeat on election night.
Houston, we have a data problem. Given that Rasmussen had a significant conservative bias in this election cycle, it’s interesting that Sekulow would lean on their data to support his argument. Edison Research’s exit polls – which are used by the Associated Press, CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox News – show that a minority of midterm voters (48%) wanted to repeal health care reform, with 31% wanting it to do more and 16% wanting to leave it as is. Furthermore, voters who turned out on Tuesday were more conservative than the country at large. Taking a wider view, a Gallup poll that was in the field last weekend showed that less than Â¼ of Americans (23%) think repealing health care should be Congress’s top priority after the election. (By way of comparison, 38% said passing a new stimulus bill designed to create jobs should be Congress’s top priority). Furthermore, Sekulow’s argument that “Obamacare” was a political liability on election night elides the fact that a majority of House Democrats who voted against health care reform lost. After a wave election, interest groups on the victorious side are quick to claim a mandate for their favorite issue. But when such claims fly in the face of the facts, they needn’t be taken seriously.
America woke up to a new political reality this morning. Voters anxious about the economy delivered the House to Republicans, though Democrats held onto control of the Senate. In many ways, this wasn’t a big surprise. The president’s party historically loses seats in the midterms, and the results reflected deep anxiety over the current unemployment rate and deepening economic despair, as well as an emboldened Tea Party movement on the right. A Los Angeles Times’editorial today provides a measured analysis that should help buck up progressives and others on the left wallowing in an endless round of what ifs:
In 1956, Eisenhower crushed Adlai Stevenson in their rematch; two years after that, Democrats picked up 48 seats in the House and 13 in the Senate. Those patterns have repeated more recently: Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, only to have Democrats lose 53 House and seven Senate seats in 1994; George W. Bush was reelected in 2004 and lost control of Congress two years later. Given that history, Tuesday’s results are hardly astonishing; indeed, they are more part of a trend than an aberration. Nevertheless, they do reveal powerful forces at work in our politics today. Specifically, they reflect the descent from 2008′s hopeful zeitgeist to 2010′s anger and bewilderment, emotions that found purchase in many of the bitter, partisan races decided Tuesday.
Faith in Public Life crunched some exit poll numbers last night and asked experts on the intersection of faith and politics to provide some commentary. First, the numbers.
Eighty-seven percent of voters said they were worried about the economy, and 62% said the economy is the most important issue facing the country. Exit polling, however, debunks the narrative being perpetuated by some partisans that the election was a mandate to implement a Republican agenda. It’s hard to make that case when forty-three percent of voters polled had a favorable view of the Democratic party, compared to 42% who had a favorable view of the Republican party. In many ways, the results last night can be read as a desperate cry from a weary electorate hungry for more bipartisan cooperation to lift the nation out of our economic crisis. Voters in 2010 were noticeably older and more politically conservative than the 2008 electorate. In 2008, 18% of voters were under 30; this year 11% were under 30. In 2008, 53% of voters were 45 or older; this year 67% were 45 or older. A significant flip was evident among Catholic voters. In this election, 54% percent of Catholics supported Republican House candidates, compared to 42 percent in 2008 and 44 percent in 2006. In 2008, 54% of Catholic voters voted for President Obama. The Senate race in Pennsylvania was an outlier, as Catholics nearly evenly split on support for Democratic candidate Joe Sestak and Republican candidate (and winner) Pat Toomey (51% breaking for Toomey and 49% for Sestak).
Faith leaders and analysts put these numbers in perspective, offering insights into what happened with religious voters yesterday, from the role of the Tea Party to the importance of framing the economy as a moral values issue.
Steve Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington: “Our nation’s diverse faith traditions, especially Catholic social teaching, emphasize the common good and the essential role government has in building a just economy that works for all. This tradition and powerful message is not heard enough today and is urgently needed at a time of economic anxiety, growing ideological polarization and voter anger.”
Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute: “One thing is clear from this election – the Tea Party movement was a mixed blessing for the Republican Party. This group, which represents about 1-in-10 Americans in the general population, has captured some of the enthusiasm, and part of the membership of, one of the key groups typically rallying the Republican base, the Christian Right. …On the other hand, the Tea Party hurt GOP chances in the Senate by backing several candidates who faced an uphill climb appealing to mainstream voters in state-wide elections.”
Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of Faith in Public Life: “The faith community knows firsthand how hard families have been hit by our economic crisis, and we know that this election reflected voters’ frustration with a still-stagnant economy. The fact that an overwhelming percentage of voters ranked the economy as their top concern speaks not only to individual anxieties, but also to our concerns about our nation and its values. Economic injustices are moral injustices.”
I will leave it to the professional pundits and party leaders to break down the political spin, but it’s clear that elected officials and candidates hoping to win over anxious voters in the next few years need to talk less about GDP, interest rates or unemployment rates and more about values, the dignity of work, and the common good. There is a deep well of moral wisdom from our nation’s diverse faith traditions waiting to be tapped.