The Bigger Picture
Published on September 15th 2010 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
In my last column I expressed my belief that the Tea Party movement is just another one of those alternative Americans have to exhaust before they decide to do the right thing. However, based on the history of similar quasi-political movements in America, this process will probably take at least at least one or possibly two election cycles to run its course. With mid-term elections looming in November, this is not good news for President Obama and a Democratic Party hoping to retain control of the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Unfortunately for the President and his Democratic supporters in Congress, there are also several other historical trends that augur significant losses in the upcoming elections. First, voter turnout in non-Presidential election years tends to fall by about one third from 55-60% of eligible voters in Presidential election years, to around 36-38% in mid-term elections. This isn’t good for Democrats because the percentages of older, rural white voters who tend to favor Republican candidates’ remains constant in both Presidential and mid-term elections, while the number of younger, urban minority voters falls significantly in mid-term elections.
Another worrisome trend for Democrats is that, with the exception of the post 9/11 2002 mid-term elections, the political party that holds the office of US President always loses seats in Congress. The reason why President Bush was able to buck this historic trend in the 2002 mid-term elections was because Karl Rove and company were able to whip up patriotic support for the President and Republicans in Congress by playing up the threats to American national security posed by Saddam Hussein as well as al Qaeda inspired Islamic terrorism.
The other historic trend working against President Obama and Democrats in Congress is the tendency of voters in America to blame the party in power for whatever economic problems are bedeviling their country and or the region of it they reside in. I might add that this is also a voting trend consistently seen in other wealthy countries’ democratic elections. This type of voter reaction also reflects the fact that most voters don’t really grasp the long term economic implications of their government’s complex economic and fiscal policies.
With respect to the tendency of many voters to blame the party in power for their nation’s economic problems, this kind of reaction is quite often appropriate, especially when that political party has been in power for several election cycles. Conversely however, it is also not a fitting response when a political party has only held the reins of power for less than a couple of years. This is especially true when a political party’s ascent to power coincides with an economic downturn caused largely by the ruinous fiscal policies of its predecessor.
The truth about America’s current economic malaise is that while it took hold during President Bush’s last year in office, it was precipitated by the budgetary, regulatory and tax policies President Bush and a Republican led Congress enacted between 2002 and 2006. Furthermore, you won’t find any reputable economists in America who will agree with the contentions of most Congressional Republicans that President Obama’s economic stimulus measures’ impact on America’s budget deficits has hurt the nation’s economy. What most economists, be they political liberals or conservatives, will say however, is that without those stimulus measures the recession would have been much worse and the recovery much slower.
The painful reality many Americans refuse to acknowledge is that it took years of fiscal and regulatory mismanagement by Republicans, as well as some Democrats, to create the conditions that led to the financial crisis on Wall Street and the subsequent economic meltdown. But America’s greedy bankers and deficit spending politicians were by no means the only culprits. Many American voters also bought into the notion that they could go out and ‘charge’ the good life to their credit cards instead of working and saving to attain it.
But following years of easy credit, which allowed many Americans to drunkenly spend someone else’s money for the homes and other luxuries of life they desired without having to work and save to get them, those Americans who did are now feeling the pain of a rather nasty hangover. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party and its standard bearer, President Obama, ever since the end of World War II many American voters have also become addicted to the ‘quick fix’ for their problems. So the prospect that it will take some years for America to dig itself out of its financial hole is patently unacceptable to them.
Many of these same American voters also believe that they can avoid taking responsibility for their troubles by blaming someone else like ‘them’ as the culprit. ‘Them’ can be illegal immigrants who steal jobs from American citizens, greedy Wall Street bankers, the federal government that unreasonably taxes their income and regulates their business practices or people of color who don’t look or speak like white American citizens do.
The fragmented leadership of the Republican Party has decided to cast their lot with this older and overwhelmingly white segment of the American population because they believe these voters will provide Republicans with the quickest and easiest route back to the position of political power they had in Washington DC until four years ago.
It’s quick because these voters have been gravitating to the Republican Party for years and thus provide its candidates with a very reliable base of Election Day support. It’s easy because these voters are so angry and afraid that Republicans don’t have to worry about offering them realistic solutions for America’s problems, which might cause those voters to stop and think about the implications of the policies Republicans want to implement. In other words, they’ll vote for Republicans without thinking about the consequences. Given the historic trends I’ve discussed, it would appear that Democrats are confronting a ‘perfect storm’ of political discontent. But can Republicans ride this political wave back to power? I’ll discuss this in my next column.