It seems to me…
“Every nation has the government it deserves.” ~ Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821).
U.S. midterm elections are over, the voters have spoken – and now we live with the consequences. While it will be some time before we have a full understanding of the who and how of voter demographics, the one thing clear even prior to the election was that the real losers would be the electorate.
A Republican candidate in New York indicted for 20 counts of fraud won anyway. In President Obama’s home state of Illinois, a Democratic governor running against a Republican who belongs to a wine club that costs over $100,000 just to join lost to the oenophile. Though voters are demanding an end to legislative gridlock, even Mitch McConnell, who will become Senate majority leader, whose only apparent legislative priority was thwarting President Obama’s legislative agenda regardless of any possible negative impact on the nation was reelected.
For all the money spent on this year’s midterm elections, the most costly midterm elections in history at an estimated $3.67 billion[i], only about a third (36.6 percent) of eligible voters actually cast ballots. Republican’s primary campaign issue was President Obama’s supposed unpopularity but while 46 percent of likely U.S. voters approve of President Obama’s job performance, only 8 percent of likely U.S. voters think Congress is doing a good or excellent job[ii]. Since President Obama’s favorability rating is far better than that for Congress, perhaps the more relevant election issue should not have focused on President Obama but whether to throw out all of Congress.
Despite Congress’ lack of popularity, and perhaps proving that all politics ultimately is local, House incumbents typically win reelection; Senate races also overwhelmingly favor the incumbent but not by as reliable a margin as in the House. The outgoing Congress is the least productive since 1947 and though it may be unfair, when voters think the country is on the wrong track, the president and his party take the blame.
Prior to their election day cessation, my phone was the unremitting target of robocalls (quickly hang up), my mailbox was inundated with campaign mailers (immediate discard unread into the trash), and even my e-mail inbox became the target for donation solicitations (delete, delete, delete…); “No, I will not participate in your fake election preference poll”. Similar to many other people, desiring the respite brought by the long-awaited election, I wished a pox on both parties. Regretfully, conclusion of midterm elections always initiates campaigning for the now all-too-soon upcoming Presidential elections.
People who identify with the Republican Party generally are considered more likely to vote, especially in non-presidential years. For the 2014 electorate, the issues were simple for Republicans: block reform at all cost. The election gives Republicans control of the Senate for the first time since 2006 and probably the largest party majority in the house since 1937-1939 when the Democrats had 76 members in the Senate and 334 in the House. Their victory margin even extended to governor’s races.
Republicans realize that narrowing the gap with Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group, is vital to their long-term viability but in their victory, Republicans failed to fix their challenges with crucial constituencies and instead relied on a larger-than-ever share of white voters to win key races. Without substantial changes, their territorial gains are likely to be reversed in two years when both the political map and composition of the electorate will be more favorable to Democrats.
As the U.S. now begins the 2016 presidential campaign, it may prove to be a pyrrhic victory for the Republican Party unless they are able to demonstrate, after eight years in the minority, that they now are ready to govern. Unified Republican control of Capitol Hill will heighten expectations for radical change.
Most Americans are weary of legislative gridlock and prefer elected representatives to compromise and actually get things done but with Obama in the White House and Senate Democrats able to filibuster Republican priorities, unless they demonstrate a willingness to compromise, Republicans have a very low probability to break the gridlock that has reigned in Washington.
Republicans are not a single party and longstanding divisions seem destined to widen. The Senate’s Tea Party faction includes several members who have demonstrated little patience for the dry prose of bipartisan governance. This extremist Republican faction seems intent on spending the next two years indulging in futile attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and conducting televised investigations of the president’s supposed abuses of power. If this faction prevails, America can expect yet more dysfunction.
For example, Senator Ted Cruz’s loyalty is to his own higher ambitions rather than his Party’s leadership and has pledged to try to pull the majority further toward the right. He already has indicated he will initiate politically charged hearings “looking at the abuse of power, the executive abuse, the regulatory abuse, the lawlessness that sadly has pervaded this administration”. Senator McConnell, along with House Speaker John Boehner, will have to satisfy constituents demanding aggressive ideological conservatism without jeopardizing their party’s eventual 2016 presidential candidate’s prospects.
President Obama has been much too reluctant to use his executive powers to deliver victories on key progressive issues such as climate, immigration, or economic inequality. Now, with Republicans in control of both the Senate and House willing to do everything in their power to advance their extremist agenda – including what Democrats refused to do, like eliminating legislation filibuster, using reconciliation to pass bills with only 51 votes, and continuing to refuse to compromise when Democrats in the past have demonstrated their unwillingness to oppose attempted intimidation, effective governance could become only that much more difficult.
Two years remain in Obama’s presidency and opportunities still remain for him to advance his legacy but much of it will have to be without Republican assistance. Foreign policy, including his attempted pivot to Asia, is one such area and where he might possibly even gain Republican support. To maintain any credibility in the 2016 Presidential election, there is much Democrats should do including:
Prior to the end of this Congress:
- Fill all federal judicial vacancies.
- Suspend deportations of undocumented immigrants including minors and anyone not convicted of serious crime.
- Propose comprehensive immigration reform.
- Further strengthen carbon emissions restrictions.
During the remaining two years in office:
- Reject reductions to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or the Affordable Care Act.
- Oppose further tax reductions for the wealth.
- Empower the Federal Election Commission to enforce election laws, limit campaign donations, and reduce gerrymandering.
- No ground troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.
- Require equal rights and compensation for women.
- End racially biased police profiling and military-style targeting of minorities.
- Insure Internet net neutrality.
If they wish to regain control of Congress, Democrats must become increasingly vocal in defense of core American values and the threat of extremist rightwing ideology – something at which Democrats never have excelled. The election did not give Republicans a mandate; they were only offered an opportunity. What they choose to do with it remains to be seen.
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] The Center for Responsive Politics.
[ii] Rasmussen Reports.