Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Midterm Madness

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and the Republicans are capitalizing on every crisis, foreign and domestic.  With less than two weeks to go before the midterm elections, Republicans are perfectly positioned to win control of the U.S. Senate because the president is unpopular.

Republican Congressional candidates, from North Carolina to Iowa, are running against Barack Obama rather than their opponent.   Turnout in midterm elections is traditionally poor.  All Republicans have to do is mobilize their base by keeping the focus on President Barack Obama, pounding away at him with their message of incompetence and detachment.   If the Democrat base does not turn out, which appears likely, control of the Senate will change hands. 

Nothing mobilizes a population more than fear, and that's where the crises come in.  Republicans have seized on Ebola.   Congressman Louie Gohmert, R-Tx, along with other members of Congress, has called for a travel ban on citizens traveling from Western Africa to the United States.  The president has said he is open to the idea, but is currently relying on the judgment of most medical experts who say such a ban would be counterproductive.  "This president, I guarantee you, we're going to find out, he has cut a deal with African leaders.  They're going to bring people in," Ghomert told conservative media host Sean Hannity. 

It was noteworthy that Congressional Republicans raced back to the Capitol from their break for a hearing on the Ebola crisis, yet they have been unwilling to debate the issue of America's response to ISIS, the Islamic terrorist group that has threatened much of the Middle East.  Instead, they have attacked the president for his lack of leadership in handling the ISIS crisis.   

There is no question that most Americans are weary of Washington gridlock.  A recent poll found that 70% of "likely voters" disapprove of Congressional Republicans, while 61% disapprove of Congressional Democrats.  Meanwhile, 53% disapprove of the president's performance.  No wonder most voters will stay home on November 4. 

This election is not about issues--it is about politics.  Polls show that a majority of Americans would not repeal Obamacare.  In a moment of candor, Ohio Governor John Kasich, a potential Republican presidential candidate, was asked about repealing Obamacare.  "That's not going to happen," he told the Associated Press.  "The opposition to it was really either political or ideological...I don't think that holds water against flesh and blood, and real improvement in people's lives."  Later in comments to the Washington Post, Kasich, perhaps realizing he had been too honest, said he would repeal Obamacare.  "If the House and Senate (are controlled by Republicans) and we have a Republican president, Obamacare will be repealed flat out," he said.  "And it will be replaced."  Kasich was back on message.

Obamacare has been a big success in Kentucky, where it is a state exchange known as Kynect.  Yet, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, who is in a tight race for reelection in that state, denounced Obamacare in a recent debate.  "The best interest of the country would be achieved by pulling out Obamacare, root and branch," he said.  "Now with regard to Kynect, it's a state exchange.  They can continue it if they'd like to.  They'll have to pay for it because the (federal) grant will be over."  These remarks were no doubt unsettling for the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who have signed up for health insurance through Kyneck.  But McConnell is more interested in the politics of the issue. 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, also a likely Republican presidential contender, had a moment of candor when he expressed frustration with all the talk of increasing the minimum wage to the Chamber of Commerce, a largely Republican group.  “I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage,” Christie said. “I really am. I don’t think there’s a mother or a father sitting around the kitchen table tonight in America saying, ‘You know, honey, if our son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all of our dreams would be realized.’ ”  Democrats have been leading efforts to increase the minimum wage across the country as a way to address income inequality.  But Christie was clearly more interested in the politics of the room he was addressing.

Should the Republicans win the Senate this election, they will control both houses of Congress for the next two years.  The result will be further gridlock, more partisanship, and more frustration for all Americans.  But the Republicans will have what they want most, a political victory.  

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