2009 Provides Lessons and Hope for 2021

Published April 23, 2021

“We Are All Socialists Now.”

That was the cover-title for Newsweek magazine on February 9, 2009, after Barack Obama routed John McCain in the November 2008 presidential election. Democrats picked up eight Senate seats and 21 House seats in that same election, giving them a large majority in the House and a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate. Also, Democrats emerged from the elections controlling twice as many state governments as Republicans.

Barack Obama and the ascending power-brokers in the Democratic Party embraced Big Government far more passionately than Bill Clinton had. Obama led the left wing of the Democratic Party that held a puppy-love crush on socialist governments around the world.

Worse, many Republicans – cowed by Obama’s personal popularity and the enormous size of Obama’s victory – rushed to publicly embrace Obama and his big-government programs. Living in Florida at the time, I watched with disgust as my Republican congressman – first elected in 2006 – voted for the Obama stimulus and other signature Obama programs. I watched with similar disgust as Republican Gov. Charlie Crist praised many Obama programs and turned his back on his conservative, free-market base.

Obama’s moment in the political sun lasted just two years, until the Tea Party wave of 2010. That year, Republicans flipped six Senate seats and gained control of the House. “We are all socialists now” became “We are all conservative populists now.”

Fast forward 10 years. The 2020 election results were in many ways disappointing. Yet, Biden’s personal popularity and margin of victory are nowhere near Obama’s. Democrat control of Congress is much more tenuous than in 2009. And Republicans, not Democrats, continue to control most state governments.

The biggest lesson from 2009 is to not let disappointment stifle free-market political advocacy. We faced a tougher climb in 2009 than we do in 2021, and yet we prevailed in 2010. Hold the fort, go on offense where we can, and trust in Ronald Reagan’s words that America’s best days are yet to come.

I would like to share with you just one of many examples of Heartland successfully going on offense, despite these dark times.

At The Heartland Institute, we understand that political censorship by the Big Tech Cartel is perhaps the most sinister threat to free speech this country has ever faced. However, rather than remaining silent or being bought off by Big Tech – like so many others have unfortunately done – Heartland’s government relations staff is personally working with state legislators in all 50 states to craft legislation protecting Americans’ online free-speech rights. 

During the past three months, Government Relations Director Cameron Sholty and State Government Relations Manager Samantha Fillmore have criss-crossed the country, logging more miles and visiting more states than most presidential candidates do. In state after state, they have squared off against high-powered Big Tech lobbyists, advising legislators and testifying in legislative hearings. As a result, legislators in more than half the 50 states have filed bills to protect online free speech. 

The process is just beginning, but I am confident free speech will carry the day over corrupted markets and Big Tech censorship. The asserted rights of huge multinational corporations to block Americans from expressing our political views do not – and never will – trump our First Amendment rights to engage in political free speech.

Too many politicians and think tanks have been bought off by Big Tech money. Heartland will never fall into that trap. We stand with the people, and like we did in 2009 and 2010, we will triumph.