Friday, November 05, 2010

Blah, blah, blah

The mid-term elections in the United States were quite unremarkable. What was expected to happen, happened.

What I found funny and fascinating was the reaction of the commentariat in the US and to a lesser extent here in Canada. The arguments put forward by these folks were quite amusing in how overblown and breathless they were. You would almost think that something profound happened in the US during the elections.

They made several arguments that I found really overblown.

1) The election was going to bring about change in the United States.

They certainly caused some changes in who occupy seats in Congress and in some governors' mansions but other than that not much is going to change in the US as a result of these elections.

The founding fathers of the United States were all movers and shakers in the American colonies in the 18th century. After they threw out the English king they knew that any danger of another king rising up to take his place would come from within their ranks. So they created a form of government that would prevent any of them from acquiring ultimate power with the now famous check-and-balances. It was a wonderful system for preventing the rise of a king but a by-product of it was it caused change in the United States to be slowed to a crawl. This was true when there was a general consensus in the United States on the direction of the country, with the only disagreement being on how to get there. That consensus broke down decades ago and we now see different segments of US society trying to pull the country in different directions. Their objectives for the country are not the same. In that kind of atmosphere the very design of the US political system has put American society and its politics into a kind of stasis. Not much is changing in the US and certainly not much is changing for the better for the citizens of the United States. This election did not change that dynamic. If anything it just made it worse.

In addition, the US Congress is now divided into five major factions. Liberal Democrats, conservative Democrats, moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers. (Note the Republicans are fractured into three.) None of these factions have a majority in either chamber and party discipline is a foreign concept to members of Congress so we have a recipe for mayhem even without any intervention of the President, who if he is smart, will take advantage of these divisions, particularly within Republican ranks.

2) President Obama is in trouble and there is a real question as to whether he will win another term.

No one can really predict the future so such an outcome is certainly possible but I would not say it is very probable. Mid-term elections in the US are similar to by-elections in this country. They tend to attract the protest vote while others who have no real problem with how things are going in the country stay home. The big prize in the US has always been the presidency so when it is not up for grabs during an election there is not much incentive amongst most of the electorate to get out and vote.

As well, the President drives the political agenda in the United States not the Congress. The Tea Partiers might think they are in a position to harm the President but he can keep throwing bombs at them to keep them off track. Indeed, the President has a little more freedom to act. He can now propose and if the Congress balks he and his supporters can claim it is just the Republicans playing partisan games instead of looking out for the best interests of the American people. And like I said in point number 1 he can begin throwing legislative bombs at the Republicans in Congress to force them to actually take potentially unpopular positions on important issues.

The President has two years to work with this new reality and if he uses his time wisely he should be able win another term.

3) The Tea Partiers are now a force in US politics.

Let's wait to see the results of another election or two before coming to such conclusions.

Much more was said about the mid-term elections but most of it was nothing more than newsies and their employers trying to justify their existance. They were certainly interesting to politicos in both the US and Canada but the sad reality is they will not have a profound impact on the US or on the well-being of its citizens.

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