What the November 2 Election Results Showed

Published November 5, 2009

Republican Chris Christie’s surprisingly comfortable margin of victory in Tuesday’s election for New Jersey governor and Republican Bob McDonnell’s devastating landslide in the Virginia gubernatorial election should serve as a much-needed shot across the bow of politicians who have been enabling runaway government power.

The election was not a repudiation of President Barack Obama, as many Republicans would like to believe. The president remains personally popular and likely would have carried both states if he appeared on the ballot. People generally like him and hope he can be a successful leader.

Instead, voters in reliably Democratic New Jersey and bellwether Virginia delivered a strong repudiation of profligate government spending and economy-wrecking government takeovers of private industry. Voters rejected the president’s policies but not the president himself.

Obama will not be on the 2010 ballot, of course, which will make the 2010 midterm elections more about policy than his personality. Given Tuesday’s preview of the mood of the American electorate, liberal politicians in both parties would be wise to consider the price they will pay if they support more stimulus spending, bailouts of favored industries, and government takeovers of the health care and energy industries.

The liberal media fell all over themselves in the aftermath of the 2008 elections, dreamily crowing about the end of American “capitalism” (aka free enterprise) and proclaiming a new socialist mandate. Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership bought into this myth and attempted a radical transformation of American society, pushing the fable that government programs–rather than hardworking individuals–create jobs and personal wealth.

Americans always have believed in a certain degree of rugged individualism. Government programs designed to soften the perceived rough edges of a free market can attain some support, but voters will harshly punish the purveyors of a radical transformation of America in which government seeks to take the place of private enterprise as the nation’s economic backbone.

Granted, the liberal elites will try to spin Tuesday’s election results another way. MSNBC was chock-full of leftist pundits Tuesday night claiming Democrats got beat because they weren’t liberal enough to motivate the party’s base. However, independents in both New Jersey and Virginia broke for the Republicans by a roughly two-to-one margin. Democrats Jon Corzine and Criegh Deeds lost their elections not because they failed to motivate the Democratic party base, but because their big-government beliefs were much farther from the values of mainstream America than the limited-government message delivered by Christie and McDonnell.

For example, Americans are feeling the pain of steeply rising health care costs and are hungry for reform, but discontent with some particulars of health care coverage does not mean people fundamentally reject free enterprise and want government to socialize health care. State government mandates on insurance coverage drive up the cost of health insurance by interfering in the market, and their removal would go a long way toward reducing health care costs. This is the type of health care reform Americans would support gladly.

Similarly, Americans likely would support reasonable actions to curb the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, if doing so would not substantially raise energy costs and if nations such as China and India simultaneously committed to similar reductions. Global warming legislation being considered by the U.S. Senate fails on both accounts, and Tuesday’s election results show politicians in all but the most liberal of the 50 states will be severely punished for supporting such legislation.

Republicans and Democrats alike will be wise to learn the lessons of Tuesday’s elections.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute.