The US Midterm elections: reasons to be cheerful
On the face of it, there is not much to cheer about the Midterm elections being held today in America. The polls and the pundits agree that there is going to be a big move to the Right, and that the vote represents a referendum on Barack Obama’s great Liberal/socialist/communist/totalitarian agenda – a referendum which will not flatter him.
The Right is fired up even as it spirals into new hinterlands of anti-government madness, while the Left and the Centre – the great swathes of so-called moderates who brought the Democrats into power in 2008 – are demoralised and deserting Obama in droves.
The grassroots Tea Party movement is set to have a massive influence. Dozens of their anti-establishment candidates succeeded in ousting mainstream Republican candidates for office earlier in the year, and many are now set to take the reins of actual power in both houses of Congress.
Democrats, comfortable in a dual majority since 2006, look certain to lose control of the 435-seat House of Representatives (i.e. the Commons), and could well lose control of the 100-seat Senate (the upper chamber, equivalent to the Lords in more ways than they’d probably like to admit).
Even the most optimistic leftie estimates for Republican gains start at around 40 – still enough for a majority – and range all the way up into the 80s and beyond. At least 10 Senate seats are in serious play, and it isn’t inconceivable that Dems, who have 59 of the 100 seats, could lose their majority there, too.
To top it all off, a great many of the Republicans who are set to win for the first time are crazy. This word is not used lightly: they’re blisteringly anti-healthcare, nakedly capitalist, and rabid in their disdain for government. The majority of them, of course, are religious fundamentalists whose conception of Jesus seems to skip all the bits where he endorsed taxation and disdained the rich.
In short, the Democrat party seems to be facing meltdown.
Meltdown is a strong word, however. Times are indeed grim for the American Left, and they are certainly set to lose all their political advantage, but despite this thick fug of misery, there really are reasons to be cheerful. Firstly, with the GOP’s likely 40-50 seat gain is far less than commentators were predicting even two months ago, when everyone, left and right, was expecting a gain of at least 70. A bloodbath of that magnitude now seems less likely.
Why’s that? Well, it’s down to Reason #2: the Tea Party has already peaked. They’ve had all the success they’re going to have: their insurgency during the primaries got all the candidates they could into Republican nominations, and the base is as energised as it is ever going to be. They won’t win more supporters because there aren’t more supporters to win, and once their new guys have feet under desks on Capitol Hill, they’ll either get co-opted by the realities of the Washington machine, or they’ll marginalise themselves with their own craziness and intransigence.
A lot of mud is already sticking to the high profile Tea Party candidates (Joe Miller’s jackbooted thugs, Rand Paul’s jackbooted thugs, John Raese’s immediate need for ‘one thousand lasers in the sky’, Sharron Angle’s appalling racism, anything that issues from Christine O’Donnell’s mouth), and this will only intensify as they reach power. Anything one of these says in office will reverberate that much more noisily, and this can only highlight their shortcomings to moderates.
Thirdly, though the Republicans will win their majority, they won’t be able to impose their agenda willy-nilly; there’ll be enough Democrats left to block any really grisly legislation. The long-promised repeal of healthcare legislation probably won’t come to pass; repeal will need two thirds of the House to beat Obama’s veto, which the GOP simply won’t get. They’ll make a lot of noise about it, and talk about Democrats obstructing the ‘will of the people’ and so on, but they won’t create much light to go with their heat – and they know it.
Fourthly, losing on this scale may refocus the Democrats. They’ve fought a bewilderingly incompetent campaign, and they’ve previously been unable to caucaus together on the big legislation – the so-called ‘blue dogs’, centrist Dems in redder states often voted against their party to preserve their seats. These guys will be gone, not being ideologically pure enough for the Tea Party, and leaving a more tightly aligned Democratic party better able to fight a rearguard action.
Finally, things still look pretty rosy for 2012. Obama’s ratings in the polls are not as bad as all that. These Midterms are as much a judgment on Congress as they are on him personally; while he isn’t in the high 60s any more, he’s still at the 45 mark – much higher than many past presidents at this stage.
Furthermore, while the Republicans have worked sensationally well as an obfuscational unit, they don’t have anyone to run against Obama for president. There are a dozen or more Republican big beasts mulling a run (though none have declared), and not one of them is remotely electable. The high profile potential candidates like Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney have big deficiencies (arrant stupidity and Mormonism respectively), the old Washington lags like Newt Gingrich and Haley Barbour stink of special interests and sleaze, and the rest have neither the charisma, nor the profile to make a decent fist of it.
Even now party grandees are desperately scrabbling in their back rooms to unearth some fresh young buck to take on the Palin monolith. Don’t bank on it happening – if no-one has emerged by now, with only a year to go before the campaign, they probably won’t.
Don’t get me wrong, the Midterms still represent a big problem for the Democrats – they’re going to be voted down as a direct consequence of their dithering and leaderlessness – but the political reality is that the world is not going to end.
Picture credit: Getty ImagesTagged in: Americas, barack obama, Midterm elections, politics, sarah palin, tea party, usa
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