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Commentary: Franken victory is not funny

  • Story Highlights
  • Feehery: With Franken as 60th vote in Senate, liberals dominant in D.C.
  • He says liberal control in 1970s led to bill to convert U.S. to metric system
  • Feehery says Democrats are overreaching and will lose public's support
  • He says voters wanted change but not bigger government
By John Feehery
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: John Feehery worked as a staffer for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republicans in Congress. He is president of Feehery Group, a Washington-based advocacy firm that has represented clients including the News Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He formerly was a government relations executive vice president for the Motion Picture Association of America.

John Feehery says Al Franken's victory gives liberal Democrats a dominant position in Washington

John Feehery says Al Franken's victory gives liberal Democrats a dominant position in Washington

(CNN) -- The metric system is the kind of thing that you can expect from the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority Democrats now have in the United States Senate.

After the Watergate scandal in 1974, Democrats trounced Republicans in the mid-term elections, getting 61 seats in the Senate and 291 in the House.

In the Senate, they adjusted the rules to make it harder for Republicans to filibuster (reducing the magic number from 67 to 60 to invoke cloture, which ends debate). In the House, they passed all kinds of reforms to take power away from senior members and give it to junior members. And Congress mandated that the American people embrace the metric system.

The metric system idea never really caught on, and although the pain of Watergate afflicted Republicans for another two elections, they eventually pulled themselves out of their deep hole, with some good ideas and a charismatic leader, who promised to restore America to greatness.

Democrats have once again reached the magic number of 60, as Norm Coleman finally threw in the towel against the one-time joke writer for Saturday Night Live, Al Franken.

Republicans have little reason to laugh, though, as they look at their diminished ranks and wonder how they have put themselves in such a weakened position. It was only four-and-a-half years ago that the GOP was on the top of the world, and some of their more smug strategists were confidently predicting a permanent Republican majority.

This is a good time for such self-reflection. Republicans lost three top-notch senators in the last election -- Norm Coleman, Gordon Smith and John Sununu -- who lost not because they were bad senators, or because they had scandals, or because they had lost touch with constituents. All three lost because they were Republicans.

In other words, the brand killed them. And if you look at the latest polls, the GOP brand hasn't gotten any better in the last six months. In fact, according to Gallup, even 38 percent of Republicans have a negative view of the Republican Party.

But let's not throw in the towel yet, my Republican friends.

Just as in the mid-1970s, when Democratic overreach led to a Republican resurgence, the house that Franken has built will inevitably collapse on its own leftward-self.

A new Gallup poll shows that the American people are starting to catch on that Democrats are pushing the country to a place that it doesn't want to go. The poll "finds a statistically significant increase since last year in the percentage of Americans who describe the Democratic Party's views as being "too liberal," from 39 percent to 46 percent. This is the largest percentage saying so since November 1994, after the party's losses in that year's midterm elections."

It is no surprise that Americans would have that impression of Democrats in the White House and in Congress.

When they passed a so-called stimulus bill that Republicans branded as pork-filled, they lost their credibility on fiscal responsibility.

When the president assumed control over General Motors, dictated terms to Chrysler, and then refused to allow some banks to pay back their TARP loans, independent voters grew nervous about the government's stepped-up intervention in the private sector.

And last week, when Democrats passed a climate change bill that Republicans insist will sharply raise energy prices for middle-class families, moderate Democrats started to jump ship. In fact, 44 Democrats defied intense pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and voted no.

Democrats are now making plans to intervene in the health care marketplace, with some liberals insisting on a government-run "public option" health insurer. In any event, many won't be satisfied until the government basically sets prices for health insurance and prescription drugs.

The arrival of the man from Minnesota will make the Democrats move even more to the left. He will not only be one more vote for the left, but one more loud voice for liberal policies. Because of his celebrity status, he will attract media attention, and because of his philosophy, he will use that attention to move Democrats further left.

When Franken first started in politics, he did so as the liberal answer to Rush Limbaugh. Imagine if Rush were the 60th vote for Republicans, with George Bush as president. Now, think how Franken will act as the 60th vote for President Obama.

Yes, Democrats will move left by more than a few kilometers, but they will do so at their own peril.

Another poll showed that while 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservative, only 21 percent think of themselves as liberal. The American people voted for change. They didn't vote for a liberal orthodoxy that promises more government, higher taxes, slower growth, more pork and a liberal social agenda.

In 1975, the newly dominant Democratic Congress sent President Gerald Ford a bill that declared that America was going to be metric, which he signed. When Jimmy Carter became president two years later, he signed a law that told Americans that they couldn't drive faster than 55 mph.

These measures made perfect sense to the liberal sensibilities of the time. But they didn't make sense to the American people, and are symbols of a philosophy that was out of touch with the people in the 1970s and is still out of touch with the lives of most Americans today.

Most Americans still don't use the metric system, and most certainly don't stick to the 55 mile an hour speed limit on the highways of America. And while they may still like Barack Obama and still laugh at jokes written by Al Franken, they will eventually grow weary of the newly dominant liberals who now run Washington.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Feehery.

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