The Bigger Picture
Published on May 1st 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
In order to understand why the US Congress and President Obama are finding it so difficult to reach a bi-partisan consensus on how to address America’s budget deficit problems, one first needs to understand the political parties’ respective voter constituencies.
Because most Republicans in Congress represent districts and states that are in predominately suburban or rural areas of the United States, a majority of their constituents also tend to be older members of America’s white ethnic majority. Many of these citizens are also retired and rely on government funded entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, as well as supplemental income from private employer pensions and healthcare plans, to provide for their pension and healthcare needs. So for these voters, America’s current high level of unemployment isn’t the problem; maintaining their current lifestyles is.
Although unemployment also tends to be lower than the national average in these suburban or rural districts and states, this is not the case in all areas of the country. In a number of Midwestern states such as Michigan, Ohio and Indiana the loss of higher paying manufacturing jobs has led to higher levels of unemployment. These job losses have in turn had ripple effects on the retail, restaurant and service businesses that once catered to the needs of these workers, leading to even more job losses in these local economic sectors.
But most of the jobs that have been lost in the manufacturing and service sectors of the economies in these districts and states also did not require a college education. As a result, many of the unemployed people living there lack the education needed to acquire better paying jobs in America’s more service oriented economy. Many of them are also either unwilling to move to other areas of the country for a job or unable to do so because they can’t sell their homes in America’s still depressed housing market. So confronted with either going back to school to get a university degree or accepting a lower paying job in the service sector, these workers react by becoming angry and frustrated with America’s political leaders.
Although white Americans still make up a majority of American voters and hold a diminished but still privileged position in American society when they are compared as a group with other ethnic minorities, their grasp on electoral and economic power has been eroding for quite some time. But rather than accept this as an inevitable consequence of life in a vibrant multicultural society, many older and less educated whites are looking for someone and or something to blame. Seeking to take advantage of their discontent, Republicans in turn blame Democrats since younger, better educated whites and members of America’s minority ethnic groups also tend to vote for Democrats like President Obama.
But even though the balance of power in Congress, as well as the US Presidency, has been shifting between the Democratic and Republican political parties for years, members of both parties have historically compromised with their political opponents in order to pass important legislation. So why can’t the current Congress muster the bi-partisan support that has always been used in past to pass important legislation like our nation’s annual budgets?
The answer lies in the way most state’s Congressional districts have been gerrymandered every ten years by the Republican or Democratic parties that are in power in those states. When US Congressional districts are redesigned, the new districts are designed to favor the incumbent legislators of their party. Since the conservative Republicans or liberal Democrats elected from these districts no longer have to worry about swing voters, they are also less inclined to compromise and pass the bi-partisan legislation that America needs.
But the gridlock in Congress also makes President Obama look like an ineffective leader. So next week I will discuss how President Obama can overcome the legislative gridlock induced by Congressional Republicans and win re-election in 2012.