Thursday, November 6, 2014

Election Post Mortem 2014

As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.

Gore Vidal

It is enough that the people know there was an election.  The people who cast the vote decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.

Joseph Stalin

President Obama now faces a 2 year lame duckdom of dealing with a newly constituted congress, controlled by Republicans, and a new senate majority leader to be  who had vowed to see to it that Mr. Obama was only a one term President. He did not get his wish, but now he has gotten his power.  Mr. McConnell and Mr. Obama clearly have different perspectives and, even worse, bear each other no good will.

Now, in the majority, McConnell faces the prospect of doing something to endear his party to alienated Democratic and minority voters who, except in Kentucky, saw him and Mr. Boehner as the principal choreographers of obstructionism.   That may not be entirely true now; they are freed of the Tea Party albatross since that group of feckless individuals are now consigned to the fringe where they belong.
Progressives who are now either apoplectic or almost in a suicidal funk may not be as disappointed by the next two years as they think, since the "evolving values" of the GOP are now faced with the prospect of building some sort of defensible record against what will probably be the Clinton juggernaut.  Now they must govern or at least create the perception that congress is getting something done.  Angry voters will make them pay the price in two years if they do not.  

The Democratic candidates were certain that they wanted less to do with the President during their campaigns than the Ebola virus.   The President, increasingly isolated, was glad to oblige.  He seems like a pale shadow of Woodrow Wilson, who could not sell his agenda to the American public either.  
Both are misplaced academics, with Obama having the additional strike against him of either race, or an unwillingness to deal with those in congress with whom he regards with thinly disguised contempt.  His remarks at the national press club this year were telling, and although supposedly a joke, his revulsion of having a drink with McConnell was clearly enunciated.  “You have a drink with Mitch McConnell,” he said in reply to those who suggested that he do so.

Despite all this animosity and polarization, and the lack of attention to pressing issues,
the country faces a crisis of income inequality, climate change, decaying infrastructure, foreign policy threats, national defense, NSA eavesdropping and an economy that shows declining unemployment to a rate of now below 6%, a figure made less impressive by the fact that people who are not looking for jobs any longer because they cannot locate them and are not included in the lower figure for job growth.  Although the United States is currently doing better than the rest of the advanced nations in terms of growth, and has an upcoming energy windfall (we will be a net exporter, not importer of energy).  The fact remains that the old jobs done by many humans are now supplanted by robots and computers. So even though corporate profits are soaring, the stock market is booming, the sad problem is that most of the wealth generated in our new economy goes to the top 1%.   The middle class is losing the battle of fulfilling the American dream of home ownership and having children who are doing better than their parents.

This angers and frightens voters and that is what happened in this election.

The campaigns, conducted mostly on a local level, as do most mid-terms, had focused on the incompetence of the national administration, and showered their opponents with negative ads.  The gubernatorial race here in Florida set a new standard for money spent and unusually obnoxious negativity.   No discussion of issues important to the state permeated any of the debates, if you want to call them that.  Moreover, the obscene amounts of money spent for TV ads dissing the opponent may have won the election, but served no use in advancing a sane national agenda.  If Florida can vote for an amoral businessman to “create jobs” (the economic recovery having nothing to do with it) then the voters get what they deserve.

On the other hand, a Republican friend of mine correctly pointed out that a President needs to lead and there was not much evidence of that leadership in the last few years.  Aside from the isolation that is inherent in living at the White House, the President’s circle of friends and advisers has shrunken.
Obama did not lead; he thought that his ideas were so good that opponents would fall in place because those ideas  were of such quality they could not be disputed.   Getting down and dirty to get what he wanted was out of the mix;  LBJ did not do that.  FDR did not. JFK did not. Neither did Lincoln.  They were politicians who moved in a political world.  It seems clear now that Obama is incapable of making any such gestures.  He was fine as a campaigner, but in the business of governing a messy democracy, heavily influenced by talk radio, a 24/7 news cycle, huge amounts of advertising money, and pundits analyzing his speeches almost before they are finished, the evolution of the political animal must be as fast as tweets.   People no longer tune into Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley.  The network news is almost as anachronistic as Billy Graham, a cavalcade of hemorrhoid medications, blood pressure pills and other remedies for the geriatrics who tune in.

The fact is that Obamacare is increasingly successful, the stimulus worked, the auto industry was kept alive, the economy although weak, is recovering slowly.  But many of the things which happen in the currents of history fall outside the scope of Presidential power.   For example, the revolutions in the Middle East, financial collapse in 2008, the bubble in the stock market, Ebola, ISIS, Israeli-Palestinian inability to reconcile, Russian aggression and the limits of American power, emanating from a world that is increasingly amorphous and disparate as well as "allies" who now have national interests that differ from ours. And people, let’s not omit Junior Bush’s invasion of Iraq on hyped intelligence and following up with occupation misfeasance that set the wheels in motion for ISIS, and empowered Iranian ambitions for both nuclear weapons and Middle Eastern hegemony.

But in the final analysis the American public is more and more subject to the economic sledgehammer of inequality.  That inequality stems from less and less of us able to afford a home, or a higher education for their children.  CEOs making obscene salaries and 15% of the public living below the poverty level as well as the vanishing of the middle class. This does not make happy voters.  Republicans or Democrats who ignore these issues do so at their peril and even worse, at the peril of our republic.  Whether the Republican formula that funnels more tax breaks to the rich and ignores the needs of the middle class in their philosophy of "job creation" and trickle down economics works or will work is still open to question.  It has not worked in the past.  Moving to the center does work and that is what Republicans have not done, focusing instead on red herring social issues such as abortion, climate change denial, religious hypocrisy,  and the 47% who are sucking at the teat of big government.  

So, Republicans, I wish you success, because now, in your hands, rests the fate of our floundering ship of state.