As members of the 114th Congress were sworn into office on Tuesday, their party affiliations described what happened last November: 246 of the 435 representatives and 54 of the 100 senators are Republican.
That might be enough for some fellow GOP’ers to claim victory and a “mandate,” but they would be wise to recall a lesson from history.
The last time the House had so many Republicans was in 1947, when the 80th Congress was sworn in. At that time, Republicans also held 51 of the 96 Senate seats. Democrat Harry S. Truman, who had become president on April 12, 1945, upon Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death, was beginning the third year of his first term.
In 1948, Truman ran against Republican nominee, Thomas Dewey, governor of New York. That year, Truman was also running against what he termed the “Do-Nothing Congress.” Before the election, polls and pundits put Dewey in the lead and many believed there was no way he could lose. The Chicago Daily Tribune ran with the headline,” Dewey Defeats Truman,” the morning after the election.
But, in one of the biggest upsets in U.S. politics, Truman won. Not only did he win reelection but his party wrested control of Congress, where Republicans lost 73 seats in the House and nine in the Senate.
Sixty-eight years later, the 114th Congress has an opportunity to become the Do-Something Congress. To earn that distinction, Republicans should focus first on moving rapidly to pass bills -- on bipartisan issues that Obama will have to sign, and then move to more partisan issues that will allow for clear, clean lines to be drawn for the 2016 election.
Republicans should constantly and consistently promote what they have passed legislatively and what President Obama either sits on or vetoes. The reality and narrative should reflect a Congress whose members work hard and pass legislation and a president who “does nothing” or seeks to obstruct the will of the majority. The Republicans will have to be aggressive in their communications strategy, as the White House is very effective at shaping communications, if not governing.
Why is it important that they focus on execution? Last year, Americans told Gallup pollsters that government leadership was the country’s most important problem. This included “President Barack Obama, the Republicans in Congress and general political conflict.” It was the problem listed most often at 18 percent. (Conducted monthly, 1,000 adults, 95 percent confidence level, plus or minus 1 point.)
If, as the Gallup numbers show us, people are concerned with our government’s lack of performance and they want our government to work — who should take the lead? President Barack Obama, who is serving out the last two years of his second term, or Republicans, who recently gained seats in the House of Representatives and took control of the Senate? While some Republicans might claim they have the upper hand, given their pickup of many seats in the midterm election, the polling numbers provide a different perspective.
A Rasmussen poll released Tuesday found that “42 percent of Likely U.S. Voters think it would be better for the country if the president does more of what Congress wants. Just as many (43 percent) say it would be better if Congress does more of what the president wants.” (Eight-hundred likely U.S. voters polled Jan. 2, 2015, 95 percent level of confidence, plus or minus 3 points.)
While the Republicans are busy being effective and making Washington work, they should also be focusing on the long term — reaching out to women, minorities and anyone else who may be willing to work with them.
This time, winning a midterm election should be about more than a short-term gain of seats; it should instead be about setting the stage for a larger win down the road. This will require that the Republicans govern the entire country.
This is a chance for Republicans to reach out, to be inclusive and to ensure that all Americans can have a brighter future together.
This is Republicans’ opportunity to lead America and set the pace in a Do-Something Congress.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.