What that told politicians, said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., is that offering simple solutions to complex problems was a winning strategy.
Try to explain to people what a sequester is. Its just about impossible, he said. But tell them government is too big and needs to be made smaller and they like you.
Democrats noticed. They rallied their own troops generally, liberal activists and regained control in 2006.
By then, politics had new rules: Each party had to play to its base to keep up not only support, but fundraising.
Monday afternoon, for example, one liberal group jumped in urging Democrats in Congress to reject the fiscal deal because it would allow incomes between $250,000 and $400,000 to escape tax increases. Tax rates on those making $250,000 must go up, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said in an e-mail to congressional Democrats. The public is paying attention. . . . The current deal violates progressive principles. It should be opposed.
While Democrats and Republicans talk about tackling other issues in coming months, the fact is that fiscal matters will continue to stymie them.
Hope for bigger things rests with Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. But neither has shown the kind of political toughness that would muscle a big deal through Congress.
Obama once again was unable to get a big, bipartisan deal, and again showed himself out of touch with Congress rank and file. His Monday afternoon appearance before TV cameras, essentially a political rally with cheering supporters, proved an affront to the Republicans he badly needs.
The next time we talk about fiscal problems in America, I want a news conference where the president is center stage, not surrounded by political activists, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Boehner tried to get tough with hard-line Republicans, throwing some off key committees and hoping to send a signal that dissenters would be punished. It hasnt worked.
In the meantime, lawmakers and leaders appear motivated to do little but await the next deadline and figure out how to act in stages, as Obama said Monday.
Thats not a good sign. I worry, said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, that we are losing the art of legislating.