Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What is at Stake in the 2014 Elections?

Despite the media's 2016 myopia, there is a lot at stake in the 2014 mid-term elections and there are ways that it could turn out that could shape American politics and policy for the foreseeable future, in both good and bad ways. Here is what's at stake.

Any Chance for Meaningful Legislation: The fact that any meaningful legislation passed at all since congressional Republicans instituted the “Fuck Obama” strategy is a minor miracle. If we get to have future historians, they might look back at Obama as one of our most productive presidents. The problem of course is that he inherited a situation that required a TON of meaningful legislation. The country needed healthcare reform, it needed Wall Street regulation, it needed a massive infrastructure program, new gun purchasing regulation, climate change policy, immigration policy, a higher minimum wage, etc and so the threshold for legislative success was set much, much higher by the 2008 collapse than it normally is. But there is still time. I know not all of that is going to happen, but with every shift from Republican to Democrat in Congress, the potential for action increases slightly. I'm not arguing for a Congress that would just rubber stamp Obama's policies, but for a Congress in which the tantrums of one party are not so powerful.

The Role of the Tea Party in American Politics: The Tea Party came to power in the United States because Fox News lied about the Affordable Care Act. Not a single fucking thing the Tea Party rallied behind had a shred of legitimacy. Obamacare was not an assault on personal liberty. There were no death panels. He pushed for no legislation on guns or religion or whatever. Everything that could have been rational policy debate was amplified to hysteria and so we ended up with a bunch of hysterics in Congress and state legislatures. And those democracy lovers decided they loved democracy so much, they gerrymandered their states at unprecedented levels to make sure only democracy lovers like themselves get elected, because democracy is about making sure your guy wins.

Since then, those elected by the Tea Party, have, shock of shocks, acted hysterical in Congress, but they might have finally done more damage to themselves than their gerrymandering can protect. The important thing here is that relegating the Tea Party to a footnote of history does not require the House changing hands. All we need are a few of the Tea Party Republicans to be replaced by either Democrats or moderate Republicans to empower Boehner to finally start completely ignoring the crazy uncle at the dinner table. Ten maybe. Maybe as little as five depending on how other elections turn out is all that would be needed to greatly diminish their influence. But if they hold onto those seats, not only do they get to demolish productivity for another two years, they begin to entrench themselves as incumbents, build seniority in the House, and, soon chair committees. Think about that for a second.

The Very Soul of the Republican Party. There's a good reason why the Republican party hasn't offered much in the way of tangible policy initiatives in the last few years: Their philosophical base is obsolete. Don't get me wrong, there are still quite a lot of Americans that, for various reasons, subscribe to free market capitalism mixed with fundamentalist or conservative Christian ideology, but with the continued (but painfully slow) social liberalizing of the country, it's continued (and somewhat faster) diversification, that number is diminishing every year. Add in the 2008 Wall Street collapse and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the scandal over NSA spying (which is an Obama policy but absolutely stems from Republican security and foreign policy ideas), and the tepid recovery all of which either are the direct result of or greatly influenced by Republican ideology, more and more people are seeing the absolute failure of Republicanism to cope with the modern world.

Given how few people voted for Republicans in 2012, 2014 could present an ultimatum to the Republican party. Change or die. Adapt your philosophies to the modern world (which might not actually be possible, but that's another debate) or fall into utter irrelevancy. Which, for the record, I'm not sure would be a good thing. I'm not a huge fan of Democrats either and though I would like to believe a fractured and irrelevant Republican party would allow for a liberalizing of the Democratic party or create space in our politics for an actual liberal party or more room for independents of all political beliefs, most likely it would mean corporations just focusing even more on Democrats and an entrenching of mainstream moderate Democrat policies, which really are mainstream moderate Republican policies (thank you Bill Clinton), which, since I've got you, are not going to stop global warming or end poverty.

A State Level Do-Over. The less discussed, but probably far more important impact of the 2010 election madness happened on the state level and plenty of states, including my home state of Maine, are very much looking forward to correcting the error of their ways. Tea Party state legislatures and governors should almost get a plaque for the damage they've done to their states, whether it is flushing money down the toilet in an attempt to discover welfare fraud or dismantling mosquito control systems or attacking unions (You know, the guys that invented the fucking weekend) the Tea Party has been a wrecking ball at the state level. 2014 will be many state's first chance to clean house. Which, of course, doesn't mean they will.

And a bonus thing NOT at stake in the 2014 mid-term election: Obama's Legacy. Barack Obama became President with two inherited wars, directly after the greatest financial catastrophe since The Great Depression. In his first term and a half, the American healthcare system has been reformed, a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created (thanks, Elizabeth Warren), Don't Ask, Don't Tell was abolished, the American auto industry was saved, Osama Bin Laden was killed, the War in Iraq ended, credit card reform was passed (thank you also, Elizabeth Warren), fuel efficiency standards were boosted, and more, all while being the most insulted and disrespected President, perhaps in our nation's history, (Just imagine for a second, the shit-storm that would have happened if a Democrat had shouted “You lie,” at President Bush.) and all while the opposition party made defeating him their single most important policy goal. In short, given the context of his administration, Obama has actually been an almost miraculously effective President. (Nancy Pelosi also deserves a lot of credit for this as well. Harry Reid, not so much.) Whether or not he is able to accomplish anything more in the rest of his second term, Obama's legacy is secure. Yes, it will be one of unreached potential, but it is not his potential that went unreached, but ours.

The mid-term election is probably the best argument for and against representative democracy. The sluggish turn out in mid-term elections confirms that citizens in general, simply don't have the time and commitment to governance required for effective direct democracy. At the same time, our long term thinking is utter shit and if there isn't a headline bashing us in the, well, head, we don't turn out even though EVERY SINGLE ELECTION IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION!

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