Midterm day

2010-11-02

in Economics, Law, Politics, Rants

Despite all the complaints from both left and right, I think Barack Obama is a promising president, whose tenure has largely been wasted on the financial crisis so far. Nonetheless, he does have some decent achievements to point to, most notably on health care, and there is a lot more he could accomplish with adequate Congressional support.

Hopefully, today’s elections will be less dire for the Democrats than many have been expecting.

While some of the complaints about Obama from the right have been non-sensical (all that secret Muslim / socialist stuff), what really seems to endanger him is a loss of enthusiam from his core supporters. Certainly, he could have done more on issues like gay rights and climate change. Nonetheless, it doesn’t make sense to punish him for inadequate action by rewarding those who will do even less on those issues, or even try to roll back the modest progress that has been made.

The Republicans seem to understand the value of unity and pulling together far better than Democrats do. That may be a big part of why they seem to be so much more effective at driving their agenda, despite how it tends to serve the needs of a powerful minority more than those of the population at large.

See also: U.S. midterms and Canadian climate policy

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

. November 2, 2010 at 11:32 am

November 1, 2010, 8:20 pm
5 Reasons Democrats Could Beat the Polls and Hold the House
By NATE SILVER

While our forecast and a good deal of polling data suggest that the Republicans may win the House of Representatives on Tuesday, perhaps all is not lost for the Democrats. Here’s one possible scenario for how things might not end up as expected.

Tristan November 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm

“what really seems to endanger him is a loss of enthusiam from his core supporters. Certainly, he could have done more on issues like gay rights and climate change.”

I think the core is upset largely at his sellout to high finance, his inaction on Guantanamo (and – much worse – the reversal of the habeas corpus decision he fought for and won), and his targeted assassinations on suspicion, even of US citizens. Some of the “core” might also be upset that he’s largely continued Bush’s agressive military foreign policy, and is pursuing an agressive war in Afghanistan despite running on what seemed to many as a “principled anti-war platform” (which wasn’t actually true – but the perception existed and did gain him support from anti-war groups).

You are certainly right that the republicans will do no better on these issues – but you can hardly blame people for becoming disenchanted.

. November 2, 2010 at 2:07 pm

With the likely loss of the party’s majority in the House of Representatives, a virulent backlash by the progressive base against the moderates will consume Democrats for months.

The liberal left is relishing the electoral defeat of dozens of conservative-leaning Blue Dogs and pro-business New Democrats. They blame them for the perceived timidity of the Obama administration’s health-care and financial reform bills, and its ultimate cop out on cap-and-trade.

The Democratic left wing wanted Canadian-style health care. It wanted to dismantle the banks and double the size of the stimulus package. It wanted to make the cost of coal prohibitive.

It got none of these things out of the Obama presidency. And now it wants revenge.

Disgruntled Democrats are deluding themselves, of course. Were it not for the recruitment of moderate candidates in 2006 and 2008, the party would never have won a majority in Congress. And if Democrats experience a near-historic rebuke at the polls on Tuesday, it won’t be because Americans think Barack Obama’s agenda has been too timid.

alena November 2, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I feel that Obama did not do nearly enough and lost much of the fire that inspired people to see hope in him. If he is badly defeated today, he will do nothing for the rest of his presidency. That will be terrible for America and for the rest of the world. The whole economic system needs such a huge change, that only a revolution can do it.

R.K. November 2, 2010 at 6:48 pm

My guess is that the Republicans will take over the House but not the Senate – and that the legalization referendum in California will fail.

. November 2, 2010 at 10:16 pm

The Republicans have won control of the House of Representatives in the U.S. midterm elections, according to projections by several U.S. media outlets, but key Democratic wins appear to have hurt the chances of the GOP also taking the Senate.

Republicans have also picked up three Senate seats so far in Arkansas, Indiana and South Dakota. However, Democratic victories in Connecticut and West Virginia made it more difficult for the GOP, which needed a net gain of 10 seats to capture the upper chamber.

It was still unclear how big the congressional would be for the Republicans, but a number of media outlets predicted the GOP would gain at least 50 seats, more than the 39 the party needed to take control of the House.

Tristan November 3, 2010 at 12:02 pm

“The whole economic system needs such a huge change, that only a revolution can do it.”

It’s certainly true that the average person knows very little about the economic system – the debate is artificially polarized between people who are “for” or “against” the stimulus. Reasonable centrists like Krugman are marginalized – and average knowledge about the history of the shift in the American economy away from production and towards finance is desperately poor. The fact people study politics in university for 4 or 6 years and not know what “financialization” means, or demand “empirical basis” for basic claims about neo-liberalization shows how out of step even the highly educated are from reality.

The divergence between US politics and sanity seem best explained not by some complex French theory, but by Chomsky’s 30 year old, very simplistic “propaganda” model (roughly, the media is business run, and strategically excludes viewpoints that compromise investor interests), and Ferguson’s similarly simple “investment” theory of politics (roughly, votes result pretty directly from campaign investments, and in “democracy” different sectors of business compete with each other for control over government – with Labour (usually, there are some exceptions) marginalized or fully excluded).

These models aptly explain how politics can get so out of sync with popular opinion – popular opinion doesn’t matter, campaign financing matters. And worse – popular opinion is largely controlled by the set of positions approved as “sane” by the corporate media. If you don’t endorse a position taken in a “mainstream” publication, you are dismissed as outside the centre. The problem with this is – as the “mainstream” becomes more and more insane, the centre could literally drop out. That’s what the Tea Party represents – the failure of mainstream republicanism to respond to the grievances of its traditional base – and the replacement of failed centrist republican narratives with xenophobic traditionalism and much more radical than usual anti-government sentiment (which is actually an extension of an originally mainstream run anti-government propaganda program which dates roughly back to WW2, the turn against the new deal, and the beginning of clawing back labour’s gains during the depression).

Neal November 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I have to agree with Tristan here. Teabagger nutjobs like Christine O’Donnell praised the President’s approach to foreign policy and the War on Terror. The Obama administration has been not only disappointing on this front, but as lawless and criminal as the previous administration. I don’t necessarily blame Obama for this, beyond blaming him for running for office. America’s military hegemony has made the institution of the presidency toxic. Obama may have had the best of intentions before he was Caesar, but now that he is Caesar, the senator who promised to end the abuses of the last administration is gone.

Turnout was much lower this year than in 2006. An energized Republican base is the driving media narrative, but the numbers suggest that a disinterested Democratic base is the deciding factor. The conventional wisdom that the democrats moved too fast on progressive causes makes little sense in this context. Congress and the President caved to the interests of Wall Street and the health insurance industry, apparently in the interest of compromise, and in doing so, ensured that they had two pyrrhic victories to try to sell to skeptical voters come midterms. The Tea Party anger may be misdirected, but they are angry because they rightly perceive that things are getting worse. The same banks that were rescued a year ago are now more profitable than they have ever been, all by engaging in the same reckless behavior, meanwhile unemployment is at 10%, or if you measure it the way it was before the 80s, 20%. Health care reform could only really be achieved by breaking the back of the insurance industry, not gaining its support.

Finally, I think the focus on Obama has been inappropriate. Obama was not up for reelection; Congress was. The biggest disappointment for me this cycle is Harry Reid keeping his seat, and thus leadership of the Senate. Reid’s Senate was the biggest failure of the last congress. Pelosi lost her job after a successful tenure running a House of Representatives that was effective at passing relatively good progressive legislation, much of which the Senate never got around to even at the committee level. Harry Reid’s Senate got nothing done, and he gets to keep his job. Perhaps a leader who was willing to enforce party discipline on important issues by taking away committee chairs would have been able to accomplish something. What is the point of having a party if you can’t enforce discipline on the procedural votes necessary to get something to a vote on the floor?

Neal November 3, 2010 at 12:30 pm

My agreement with Tristan is referring to his first post, if the context doesn’t make that clear.

R.K. November 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm

It is awfully ironic if the Democrats lost because disappointed voters stayed home. If what you really want is action, it is foolish to contribute to the empowerment of an obstructionist bloc.

How much can Obama get done now?

oleh November 11, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Major political parties are umbrella coalitions. It is natural for a “core” to be dissatisified because the party in order to be an unbrella party does satisfy the agenda of the “core”. The difficulty for the “core” in the United States was thet it raised such unrealistic expectations for waht Obama would or could do. As Obama focussed on policy, he know understands that he must also focus on “politics” , which is the art of the possible.

I commend Obama for doing what he has done so far , an in particularin health care and finacial reform.

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