Ten Political Lessons for the New Year

The world at the start of 2010 looks a lot different than it did when it was on the verge of 2009. For one, we have avoided economic collapse. It's also likely that in the new year, President Barack Obama will have delivered on his campaign promise to reform American health care -- somewhat. If he is lucky, we will begin to see an economic resurgence that will steady his job approval rating and calm Democratic fears of a GOP rout in the fall midterm elections. Republicans, looking better now than they did six months ago, will continue to attack Democrats for the exploding deficit and the decision to try to spend America out of the recession. And if Republicans are lucky, the economy will not recover quickly. But we will have to wait to see how all that turns out.

We already know how 2009 unfolded, though, and some lessons are worth remembering in the coming year. Here are the top 10:

Bipartisanship makes for good rhetoric but bad politics. Health care is the chief victim of this botched strategy. The president made early concessions -- the public option became negotiable -- in order to attract GOP votes, and it was all for naught. All he did was weaken his hand and lose a big chunk of his base.

Celebrity is not the same as politics. So don't worry about Sarah Palin, who has locked down the anti-intellectual, George W. Bush wing of the GOP and is doing everything in her power to drive everyone else out. She has fans, not votes.

When you skip town, leave forwarding info. This will henceforth be known as the Mark Sanford Doctrine. Love, we are told, can move mountains, but the Appalachian Trail is not now and has never been in Argentina. If you're the sitting governor of a state, you can't just pull Houdini for five days and then come back only to talk about how much you've cried the past week.

Resist cold hard cash. Rep. William Jefferson's decision to crassly sell out the Louisianans he was supposed to represent in Congress -- poor black people who desperately needed representation, I might add -- for the sum of $90,000, which he amateurishly hid in a freezer, is the kind of noxious betrayal of the public trust that makes it harder for the government to get anything done. Jefferson spent 18 years in Congress and is now serving a 13-year sentence for 11 counts of corruption. We'll call it even at the end.

Stop fooling around with your parents' money. The story was already bad enough: Arizona Sen. John Ensign, widely regarded as a rising star in the GOP, had to publicly confess that he had an affair with a woman on his staff, who happened to be married to a man on his staff. The story got downright ludicrous when it was revealed that Ensign somehow got his parents to pay $96,000 of what looks an awful lot like hush money to the couple, who, of course, did not hush.

Stick to the text. Chief Justice John Roberts has a simple task: Read the same oath of office that had been delivered 55 times before to 43 previous presidents over the past 220 years. But when it was Barack Obama's turn to put his hand on Abraham Lincoln's Bible, Roberts flubbed it. The Chief left out a word here, changed a word there, and forced America's first black president to retake the oath a day later, just in case. Strict constructionist, indeed.

We can't miss you if you don't go away: My recommended reading for Dick Cheney in the coming year is the Dr. Seuss classic, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! Cheney has taken on the role of the paranoid, defending the castle well after the war is over. All he has done in the last year is to make it harder for people to take Republicans seriously.

Getting in is only half the battle. Politicians have known this forever, but apparently Tareq and Michaele Salahi did not. The couple crashed Obama's first state dinner, only to find themselves at the center of a rather embarrassing media frenzy: The pair became a national joke practically overnight, and has since been subpoenaed by the committee on Homeland Security. And on this note, a quick word of advice to the White House Social Office: Make your best people your bouncers.

Panic is not a political strategy: Democrats, particularly those of the Blue Dog breed, should not go into 2010 playing defense on the tough issues -- health care, climate change, and job creation. The imperative for those in power is to govern, and that requires decisive action. So even if pushing legislation forward involves a high degree of difficulty and requires taking uncomfortable political risks, our leaders should not dither and hide. For Democrats, that means that health care was a fight worth having: Despite the bad poll numbers and the threat of losing in 2010, things might be a lot worse if the public's perception was that they came, stalled, and stumbled.

Self-righteousness is not principle. And therefore there should be no negotiating with Joe Lieberman. It's one problem to have to deal with genuinely conservative Democrats who have to worry about winning re-election in tough swing districts. It's another altogether to be making deals with a reliably unreliable "ally" whose only goal is to be the center of attention all while accentuating his contrariness.