By Teresa Collett
The juxtaposition of President Obama's ongoing effort to sell Americans on Obamacare and the unveiling of the Republicans' Pledge to America highlights the differences between the two parties and what they have learned from the American people during the past two years. While the Democrats still believe government is the source of liberty, most Republicans finally have remembered that liberty is the natural right of the people, not a gift from government.
Six months ago, when the wildly unpopular health care overhaul was passed by a slim margin, the Democratic establishment assured Americans that when we got to know the bill better, we would come to love it. Yet during the intervening months, as we have come to know what the bill really does, it has become even less popular.
As conservative Democrats and independents are abandoning the president's agenda, many Democratic candidates are running against health care reform, amnesty, "cap-and-trade" - in short, against the administration's agenda. Even Mr. Obama's most enthusiastic grass-roots supporters are voicing their doubts in his administration. Velma Hart, a self-described Obama fan who desperately wants to continue supporting the candidate of "hope and change" whom she elected, recently made news when she candidly acknowledged to the president that she is exhausted from having to defend him and make excuses for his failed policies.
How have Mr. Obama and the Democratic leadership responded to criticisms of their policies? The president, clearly caught off-guard by Ms. Hart's comments, had no real response for her or, frankly, for the millions of Americans who find themselves in her situation. During his recent backyard news conference in Fairfax, Va., promoting Obamacare, the president lamented that he and the Democrats haven't done a good enough job of explaining his agenda. If only he could explain the health care takeover and his broader agenda more clearly, surely we the people would embrace his enlightened new way.
Mr. Obama thinks popular discontent is simply a reflection of our lack of understanding. He and the Democratic leadership think they know what is best for Americans and we the people just need to trust them. They visibly are annoyed by the audacity of Americans standing up in defense of their own liberty.
By comparison, the Pledge to America, part of the Republican response to the sustained popular discontent, reflects a very different attitude toward government and the electorate. At least some in the GOP are saying: "We've been listening to you; we've learned some very important lessons over the past few years, and we get it. You have reminded us of our conservative principles, and if you will have us back, we are going to focus on bolstering the economy, tackling our national debt, repealing Obamacare and replacing it with patient-centered reforms, reigning in government overreach, and restoring government accountability and transparency." The pledge is a promising start to restoring limited government, fiscal sanity, individual liberty and national greatness.
It was once observed that the greatest guarantor of liberty would be the "vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America" in defense of their own liberty. The events of the past 18 months have reawakened and reinvigorated that spirit among average citizens now demanding real change and accountability from both parties. These citizens want smaller, less intrusive constitutional government; they want health care reform that will actually bring down the costs of and increase access to quality health care; they want fiscal policies that will bolster rather than destroy the economy; they want representatives with the moral courage to implement the measures necessary to secure our national borders and reduce the national debt and who will take seriously their constituents' claims. Both parties have been put on notice.
The Republican majority that likely will control the House of Representatives in January will be markedly different from the majority ousted from power in 2006. Across the country, incumbent Democrats who have supported the president's agenda are going to be defeated by conservative challengers; Tea Party candidates have defeated many establishment Republicans. The members poised to take control of the House (and I hope to count myself among them) are actuated by the vigilant and manly spirit that nourishes freedom.
Teresa Collett is a law professor at the University of St. Thomas and a candidate for Minnesota's 4th Congressional District.