GOP Buyer's Remorse Is Nice, But It Only Matters If It Leads to Votes

There seems to be a growing tide of GOP buyer's remorse sweeping the country.

Republicans campaigned in 2010 on creating jobs and cutting spending and the deficit. But once in power, both in the U.S. House of Representatives and in numerous states, all those promises went out the window. Instead, they've offered a steady stream of items from the traditional far-right wish list: union busting, blocking abortion, redefining rape, limiting voting rights, going after public radio, etc. Even their budget priorities were not in tune with their campaign promises, as unpopular tax cuts for the rich will outpace their proposed budget cuts. (Not not to mention the petty-seeming, far-right initiatives, like going after a mural supporting labor in Maine and reversing environmentally-friendly cafeteria policies in the House, while spending money to add signs to federal buildings mentioning God.)

Unsurprisingly, voters have been unhappy.

In Wisconsin, a governor, Scott Walker, who never campaigned on union busting, offered as one of his first proposals the virtual gutting of public sector unions (except for police and firefighters who, not coincidentally, supported his campaign; to their credit, police officers and firefighters nevertheless joined in protesting Walker's union-busting bill). He followed that up with a proposed budget that offered tax cuts for the wealthy but cut programs for the middle class, most notably hundreds of millions of dollars in education cuts (paired with rules that would prevent local school districts from doing anything to raise education funds locally).

So in addition to nearly a month of protests at the Capitol (the largest in Madison since Vietnam), polls show overwhelming disapproval of Walker's far-right initiatives, and one survey found that if the November election were held again, Walker would be handily defeated. Some Republicans are speaking out against Walker, regretting their votes for him. And the disapproval is not just poll-based. The governor's opponents have begun recall drives against eight Republican senators (several with good chances of actually leading to recall elections), as well as shining unprecedented attention on April's Wisconsin Supreme Court justice election, with Walker ally and incumbent David Prosser being targeted by angry anti-Walker constituents.

Wisconsin is not unique in this regard, either. A poll revealed that voters in Ohio would not vote for their governor again if they had the chance. Even Republican legislators in Florida are not happy with Governor Rick Scott's ideologically-based rejection of federal high-speed rail funds. And there is national discontent with what the Republicans have done since taking over the House (based on Speaker John Boehner's priorities since January, you would think that Planned Parenthood and NPR were destroying the economy).

One would think this wave of buyer's remorse, coming less than three months after Republicans rose to power, would make someone like me happy. After all, I believe that the GOP's economic agenda is to protect the interests of wealthy and corporate interests at the expense of the other 98 percent of Americans, while pushing for far-right social programs that go well beyond what most citizens want. So yes, part of me is enjoying the realization sweeping the country that the Republicans are not looking out for their interests.

But I can't get too happy about the discontent at Republican overreaching, because it's meaningless if people don't learn from what has happened in 2011. And based on 2010, I'm not convinced the lesson of 2011 will stick.

The story is pretty simple: The Republicans controlled the White House and Congress for most of the Bush administration. During that time, their policies of deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and reckless foreign intervention plunged the country into debt and war, nearly brought down the financial system, and sent the economy spiraling into recession, accompanied by 10 percent unemployment. We are currently paying the price of nearly a decade of the Republicans' disastrous policies.

In the midst of the near financial collapse, Americans sent a message at the polls in 2008, electing Democrats to the White House, as well as large Democratic majorities in the Senate and House.

Whether you support or oppose President Obama's policies, he pretty much did exactly what he said he would in his campaign. He promised a stimulus bill to help get the economy restarted, a health care law to cover all Americans, a tightening of financial regulation, a drawing down of troops in Iraq and renewed focus on Afghanistan. And that's exactly what he did.

And yet, in 2010, boosted by lower turnout and a sea of lies demonizing and mischaracterizing the president's policies, especially health care (socialism! death panels!), Republicans regained a majority in the House and won state-based elections across the country. The lesson of the Bush years was forgotten.

Which makes 2011 a case of "here we go again." Americans are angry that Republicans have ignored their campaign promises and prioritized a far-right agenda voters do not support. But for how long will this anger last? Is this a hiccup, one that will go away in 2012 when the Republicans tell some more lies and demonize the president further (watching Republicans flip-flop on Libya, led by Newt Gingrich, just to stay on the opposite side of the president, has been truly entertaining)? Or is the anger the beginning of a movement, a realization that Republicans are not looking out for most Americans, and that the party's campaign rhetoric has no basis in reality?

That is the key question to come from the first three months of 2011. If GOP buyer's remorse has no lasting impact, it's meaningless now. Let's hope that the American people have finally learned their lesson and translate this anger into votes, this spring in Wisconsin, and then nationally in 2012.