Humility on the Hill

Washington responded to the outcome of the midterm elections with a sense of purpose rather than celebration.

ON A MISSION. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remarks on sweeping gains in mid-term elections at the Heritage Foundation in Washington Nov. 4.
ON A MISSION. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remarks on sweeping gains in mid-term elections at the Heritage Foundation in Washington Nov. 4. (photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

“We are humbled.”

So Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced in a morning-after press conference on Capitol Hill, talking about the midterm election results, in the most appropriate way.

His statement pretty well covered the election. For Democrats, who lost their majority in the House of Representatives, as well as at least six seats in the Senate, but also for Republicans, who didn’t win them all and couldn’t help but remember their majority after the Republican Revolution of 1994, the first Republican majority in the House since 1952. They were voted out of the majority in the House in November 2006.

McConnell had his own reasons to be humbled. The Republican Minority Leader from Kentucky will stay minority leader. His fellow Republican senator, Rand Paul, will be a Republican. But he supported Paul’s opponent in the primary.

The night of and morning after the 2010 Republican victory I was on Capitol Hill and around town in Washington. And what I didn’t run into was a lot of champagne, victory dances and other celebrations. Not from aides. Not from politicians. Instead, speeches and conversations and intensity and photo images seemed to suggest a seriousness. A sense of purpose, mission, even contrition.

It’s hard to avoid that the results of the midterm elections weren’t a referendum on the health-care legislation passed this spring. But it’s more than that. Even popular incumbents can tell you they felt like representatives of a city not well received in their home districts.

Which is one of the reasons the presumptive speaker of the House, John Boehner, R-Ohio, has spent the better part of a year talking about lessons learned from the last time Republicans were in the majority in the House.

In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Boehner said: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you help elect a Republican Congress this November, and I’m fortunate enough to be elected Speaker of the House, I pledge to you right here and now: We’re going to run the House differently. And I don’t just mean differently than the way Democrats are running it now. I mean differently than it’s been run in the past under Democrats or Republicans.”

In that speech, included in Boehner’s list of issues a Republican majority in the House won’t “bend on” is the sanctity of life. He continued, “In November, pro-life lawmakers joined together to stop Democrats from using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion procedures.  We got some flak for working with the other party on this — but on protecting the unborn, there’s no compromise.”

In the days before the election, the Catholic congressman from Ohio told talk radio host Sean Hannity: “We will not compromise on our principles.”  And when asked what he was doing to prep for Election Day and after, he told radio host Mike Gallagher, “I’ve been praying all day, every day,” he said.

Catholics in public life have been known to not be the best examples of discernment and prudence. Catholics in public life have been known to allow themselves and their faith to be used as cover for an evil in particular we really cannot afford to be party to. It’s worth praying that this speaker may help give witness to something different.

The campaign commercial that captured the midterm elections of 2010 was titled “Mourning in America,” a transparent riff on the “Better, Prouder, Stronger” commercial in Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election series.

“There’s mourning in America,” the commercial goes. “Under the leadership of President Obama our country is fading, and weaker, and worse off. His policies were a grand experiment; policies that failed. This November, let’s choose a smaller, more caring government; one that remembers us.”

The election results, which delivered a strong majority to Republicans in the House, but mixed results overall, suggested not a partisan reaction but a pragmatic reaction. A rejection of what Washington has been doing.

Something more than Rs vs. Ds was going on Tuesday, even as some of the traditional R and D get-out-the-vote efforts helped carry some incumbents back to Washington.

“It’s not about us,” a senior Hill aide told me the afternoon before the results were in. That’s exactly it.

Meaning that is hard in politics when your name and livelihood are on the line. But humility is not a bad way to start a new Congress. It’s worth a prayer that they can make it count.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].