A majority of American voters have just rejected a decades-long progressive agenda in favor of a shift back toward center-right.
Republicans took control of the House for the first time since 2006, capturing 64 additional seats, the largest shift in 78 years, when Democrats gained 97 seats in the Franklin D. Roosevelt-led landslide of 1932. Democrats now have fewer House members than any time since World War II.
Republicans gained seven seats in the Senate, even though only 17 Democratic seats were in play. Twenty-three Democratic senators will run in 2012.
Republican governors replaced Democrats in 10 states. North Carolina elected a Republican majority for the first time since 1870; Alabama for the first time since 1876. Georgia elected the most Republicans ever. Democrats lost control of 18 state legislatures. Thousands of local political offices across America shifted to the Republicans.
It was a political tsunami of historic proportions!
In Florida, tea party favorite Marco Rubio was chosen as Florida’s next U.S. senator. In Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk won President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. Most remarkable, in Wisconsin, businessman Ron Johnson, who entered politics only after attending a tea party rally, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold.
Rubio’s impressive win and Reaganesque passion for American exceptionalism already has some suggesting his name as potential 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate.
Rick Scott narrowly won the governor’s race in Florida. Scott is emblematic of political neophytes with business backgrounds who have challenged career politicians. He has promised to make Florida America’s most business-friendly state.
Many now predict gridlock in D.C. More optimistically, we may see limited bipartisanship on several issues: a badly needed budget, deficit reduction, lower taxes toward job creation, Social Security reform, viable energy policy instead of cap and trade, and on Afghanistan. Less likely is consensus on health-care and immigration reforms.
The Republicans in Congress must not gloat. They are on probation and will be held accountable to halt the progressive agenda and launch new initiatives that will achieve positive results.
What brought America to this point? Washington finally overreached and woke up the “silent majority.” Believers in fiscal sanity/responsibility tabled social debates that were dividing conservatives, libertarians, centrists and independents.
The tea partiers arose and captured the national debate, focusing on founding principles of limited government and individual rights. Millions joined the movement, rejecting a public-sector stimulus bill, government intervention into the automobile, banking and health-care industries, cap and trade, anti-private-sector language, Democrats ignoring Republican suggestions and perceived softness toward Islamic jihad.
Intimidated by tea partier activism, Democratic candidates across America ran from their own progressive agenda, declaring themselves fiscal conservatives. Some deflected attention from their prior voting records via personal attacks on their opponents. Sadly, many Republicans returned the “fire,” turning this past summer into an embarrassment for representative government.
Some in the media focused on several questionable tea party favorites and tried to paint all Republicans as extremists. But the voters knew that if fiscal conservatives and limited government candidates are right-wing radicals, then so too were our founders.
There was the diversion of campaign financing, with assertions that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was using foreign money and the revelation that unions and special-interest groups had poured hundreds of millions into Democratic campaigns. There was George W. Bush-bashing, Nancy Pelosi-bashing and counterclaims as to who was responsible for America’s economic collapse. Social issues were introduced late in the game as additional distractions.
All these digressions were ignored by an electorate choosing candidates who best met their views. Voters were informed via cable TV, talk radio, political rallies and, most importantly, the Internet — imperfect organs that have changed the course of American politics. Forming their own opinions in spite of conflicting messages from these outlets, the voters then spoke.
What will this mean longer term?
The tea partiers, earlier ignored, mocked or called vile names, are now emboldened for the foreseeable future. Slightly discouraged by losses in Delaware and Nevada, they still know that the landslide of 2010 would not have been possible without their involvement and focus on the choices between government versus free enterprise, socialism versus capitalism, wealth redistribution versus wealth creation.
The still-misunderstood tea partiers will now continue their march to restore America to founding principles. The debate between government largess versus individual rights and responsibilities will continue. Average Americans who want reckless spending curbed and a pro-private-sector philosophy adopted will not fade back into the woodwork.
The once-sleeping silent majority has awakened, profoundly altering the course of American politics for perhaps decades to come.
Tymann retired as president of Westinghouse International, where he led business development in 75 nations. He is currently managing director of Naples-based SEP World. A frequent contributor to the Daily News, Tymann is a lecturer in Southwest Florida, a passionate voice for a strong private sector and limited government. He was the keynote speaker at the initial tea party gathering in Naples. E-mail him at email@example.com.