Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Poltical Road Ahead

Congressional Republicans are already scuffling amongst themselves as they prepare to take control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives next year. One thing is for sure: Republicans enjoyed a big victory at the polls last week, which is quite an achievement for a party that just two years earlier had been in turmoil. 

The Republicans smartly nationalized all of the Senate and House races. It was as if each GOP candidate was running against President Barack Obama, whose national approval rating is in the low 40s. The Republicans mobilized their base and discouraged the Democrat base. In fact, only 36.4 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the midterms, the lowest voter turnout since World War II. 

Remarkably, several Democratic candidates, including in Kentucky, Louisiana and Arkansas, did not embrace their party's leader for fear it would drag them down. This very public strategy only exacerbated the negative perceptions of the president. In fact, the Democratic Senate candidate in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, refused to say if she had voted for Obama, but volunteered she had supported Hillary Clinton in 2008.

It is inexplicable why Democratic candidates so severely snubbed the president. After all, they were running as Democrats, and President Obama is the head of their party. And congressional Republicans have an approval rating that is far below the president's!

Democratic candidates could have embraced the 10 million jobs that have been added to the economy as a result of the president's economic policies. They could have pointed to Obama's stimulus package, which halted the country's economic free fall that was the result of President George W. Bush's economic policies. They could have reminded voters that the president saved the U.S. automobile industry, over the opposition of many leading Republicans. Candidates could have pointed to stock prices, which are at an all time high, and gas prices, which are at a recent low. Are most Americans better off than they were when the President Obama took office in January 2009? You bet!

Democratic candidates could have campaigned on the success of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Despite its rocky launch, the ACA is working. Millions of uninsured Americans now have health care coverage, and the growth of health care costs has been slowed. Ironically, the Kentucky version of Obamacare, known as Kynect, is a huge success, yet soon to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is determined to repeal the law.

Democrats could have been more united on foreign policy. Republicans attacked President Obama's policies toward Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq and ISIS. Yet Republicans only loudly criticized, they did not offer any constructive solutions to these complex problems. Democrats failed to mention that the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003 created the chain reaction that led to most of today's crises. While it is legitimate to question some of the president's foreign policy actions, Republican criticisms were primarily designed to score political points.

Republicans exploited the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa by publicly questioning the president's competence. Never mind that it was a Texas hospital that blew it, while the state's Republican governor, Rick Perry, left the state for a fundraising jaunt rather than take charge. There is no more powerful mobilizer of voters than fear, and the GOP tapped into that emotion. The president followed expert opinions that the virus had to be stopped in Central Africa, and closing the US borders would be counterproductive. So far only one person has died of the virus in the United States, and he got it in Africa. Meanwhile, today the US is Ebola free, and the Republicans cries of danger have quieted.

This year's poor election turnout reflects apathy among many of those who formed the Obama coalition that helped him secure victories in two national elections. Fewer Hispanics voted last week than in 2012, perhaps discouraged because meaningful immigration reform has been stuck in Congress (because of House Republicans). Fewer black people voted, perhaps because the president was not on the ballot, or the result of new voter ID laws. Fewer poor Americans voted, perhaps discouraged by the nation's growing income inequality. And fewer young people voted, perhaps because they don't think their vote will change things.

Had Democratic candidates run on the president's record of success, would the election results in some states been different? Probably. The president himself accepts part of the responsibility for the election results. "I think we have not been successful in going out there and letting people know what it is that we're trying to do and why this is the right direction," Obama said on CBS News' Face the Nation. All politicians must ask themselves why, in the world's greatest Democracy, did 60 percent of the country's eligible voters fail to cast a ballot on election day. 

Republicans employed a campaign of deception, distortion and voter suppression to succeed this November. Now that they will be in charge of Congress, and all of its key committees, they will turn their attention to dismantling Obamacare, repealing Dodd-Frank, cutting social programs, passing the Keystone Pipeline bill, enacting tax reform and reducing government regulation. They will refuse to act on meaningful immigration reform, and they will pursue hawkish foreign policy initiatives. In other words, we'll have two more years of politics as usual.

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