As a progressive, you can probably imagine that I'm not too happy with the recent mid term elections in which the Republican party gained more seats in the house and captured the senate. Yes, there was a lot to be sad about, from governor Sam Brownback's victory in Kansas after he bankrupted the state (what's a Republican got to do to lose there, rob a bank?) to Joni Ernst winning a senate seat in Iowa while supporting a personhood amendment and saying that federal officials implementing Obamacare should be arrested.
At times like this, I often find myself angry at the American public; how could we put in power a party that opposes raising the minimum wage and won't accept the proven science of climate change? But then I look at the election numbers: only about thirty percent of eligible voters turned out, with the electorate this time being much older whiter and male than in 2012. It seems that younger Americans are too busy living their lives to vote in an election that doesn't decide the presidency. And most people don't follow politics closely, with many Americans not knowing which party controls which branch of government at any given time. And the people who do have the time to follow politics are often retired, and therefore older and more likely to vote Republican.
It's also interesting to note how cyclical this process is: in the past ten years we have gone from the Republicans claiming a "pertinent majority" with George W Bush's reelection in 2004 to the Democrats roaring back and being seen as the wave of the future in 2006 and 2008, to once again have the Republicans surge in the 2010 midterm, only to lose ground (and the presidency) in 2012. Sadly, our divided do nothing political system seems like the one we deserve. Until the Democrats can get voters to come out to vote in mid term elections or Republicans can find a way to expand their base beyond older white men, one party dominance seems impossible.
|This man read GREEN EGGS AND HAM out loud during the government shut down, |
and he may be our next president
But I found this election particularly galling because it has validated the utterly cynical nature of the Republican strategy of gridlock and lockstep opposition. Ever since President Barak Obama took office, the Republican party has attacked nearly everything he has done and shown a distinct lack of respect for him as president. From senator Joe Wilson literally yelling "You lie!" at the president during the 2009 state of the union speech to house member Louis Gohmert's claim that the Obama administration was infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Republicans in congress have thrown every piece of mud they could at the president. (And don't get me started on the right wing media and the so called "birther movement"). In the senate Republicans have reflexively used the filibuster, to slow or kill his agenda. And, since the Republicans retook the house in 2010, they have passed less legislation than any congress ever. They have, on the other hand, tried to repeal Obamacare over forty times, and wasted time and money investigating the so called "Bengazi scandal". And, of course, they literally shut down the government in 2013. Why have the voters forgotten that?
The worst part of this strategy is that they have managed to blame the gridlock on the president, implying that it was his lack of outreach to them that is to blame. (Honestly, how are you supposed to reach out to people who call you a Marxist Muslim that hates America?). Somewhat amazingly, Republicans have complained that Obama has not made the same kind of outreach to them that Bill Clinton did when he was president back in the 90's. Now while it's true that Clinton signed into law Republican backed bills like Welfare Reform and The Defense of Marriage act, the Republicans seem to have forgotten the part where they rewarded his compromises by trying to impeach him over the nonsensical Monica Lewinsky scandal.
I've already mentioned that most Americans don't follow politics closely, but when they do see things going wrong, they tend the party of the president in power, and so they blame the political dead lock on Obama and his approval ratings have suffered. Although Obama has not been a perfect president, it irks me how his low ratings are not deserved: the day after the Republican victory, a jobs report came out saying that unemployment has dipped to five point eight percent, the lowest it's been in six years. To put that in a proper perspective, the Obama administration has created 5.9 million jobs since 2009, that's four times as many jobs as the Bush administration created in eight years. And yet he gets no credit for this. Not to mention the fact that if the Republicans had not opposed his 2014 highway work bill, unemployment would be even lower and our critically sagging infrastructure would be improved. Now to be fair, wages for most Americans have been stagnant, even as job growth has continued, but neither party seems able to deal with that issue in the short term, and certainly the Republican plan of cutting taxes for the rich yet again will do little or nothing to improve the wages of average Americans. And then there's Obamacare, which, after its initially disastrous beginning, is clearly working, bringing millions of uncovered Americans into the health care system; in fact, despite their open hatred of it, few Republicans mentioned it as an issue during the campaign.
So with the economy rebounding and Obamacare working, why is the president's approval rating sliding? Part of the problem is our 24/7 news media, that covered the rise of the radical terrorist group ISIS as something Obama was slow to deal with (like every president we've had for the past 50 years, middle east unrest has become a thorn in his side), and that made the relatively minor ebola crisis look like a huge problem that the president didn't deal with(as if he could micromanage every decision made at every hospital in the country). Also there's the issue of president fatigue; because everything the president does is considered news, Americans seem to tire of seeing our commander in chief giving yet another speech or visiting yet another diner or grocery store on the news after six years, and we start to look forward to the next election.
And the next election should prove to be interesting, with many pundits saying that the real winner in the mid terms is Hillary Clinton, who will have a conservative senate to battle against in 2016 when she runs for president (and let's face it, she will). But even if she does win, she will almost definitely be up against a Republican congress that will stand as strongly against everything she does as they did against Obama, and we'll be grid locked once again. Is there any way that America will move beyond this? Perhaps someday, and here's why: in a recent interview in England, Oprah Winfrey sparked controversy when she said this about racism: "There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die,". Blunt her words may have been, but she wasn't far off from the truth in my opinion, and that certainly pertains to the future of the Republican party. The Republican base of older white men is slowly dying off, and if they don't find a way to appeal more to women, minorities, young people and gay people they may never hold the white house again. (And don't just take my word for it, Republican studies done after the 2012 election came to the same conclusion). So let's hope that someday the words moderation and compromise enter the Republican vocabulary.