The 2010 midterms are over and done with, and the results speak for themselves. I wanted to say a few words about how we came to this.
Over the past two years, the Democrats had historic majorities, and they utterly squandered them. Except for health care, all the major progressive policy initiatives that should have been addressed – workers’ right to organize, immigration reform, climate change, GLBT equality, repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure – were ignored, while the Democrats wasted months and months in futile negotiations with Republicans who, predictably, voted en masse against the finished product anyway. They had more than enough time to work on all these things, if they’d negotiated intelligently: offering specific points they were willing to make concessions on, in exchange for an agreed number of votes. Instead, they inexplicably let the Republicans drag the process out and watered down the bills in exchange for nothing.
Despite all the right-wing media frenzy, I tend to think that most of the Democrats’ losses stemmed from voters’ anger over the economy which, ironically, is one of the things the government has the least direct control over. The incumbents took the brunt of it, and the Democrats had the bad fortune of being the majority of incumbents. Even so, the Democrats seem devoid not just of progressive sympathies, but of even the basic instincts of political self-preservation that should motivate them to pass laws which appeal to the kind of people who vote for them. And the few accomplishments they do have, they fled from at the first sign of criticism, rather than trying to make a forceful case for the benefits of the bills they did pass.
Obama’s record so far is not nothing; he’s passed a stimulus bill that saved the country from a far greater economic disaster, revived the American auto companies from bankruptcy, taken some important steps toward improving public education, and passed a historic, if flawed, health insurance reform bill. But I hope he’s content with these accomplishments, because they’re going to be all he has to campaign on when he runs for reelection. I can say with confidence that nothing is going to be achieved between now and 2012.
The Republicans are a party whose strategy can best be described as political nihilism. Their top priority is to deny Obama a second term; they’ve said so themselves, and they’re nothing if not consistent. With that in mind, we can expect them to block everything he wants to do. Any political commentator who fantasizes that the Republicans will have to get “more serious” about governing now they’re in power, or offer more than the reflexive obstruction they’ve offered the last two years, is deluding themselves. In the next Congress, we can expect stagnation, government shutdowns, and most likely, an endless parade of invented scandals for the House to “investigate”. They’ll probably try to impeach him. It’s the exact same playbook they used on President Clinton, and we’re going to see it all over again.
And in the meantime, global warming is not going to wait while Congress is mired in deadlock. The rest of the world, especially emerging powers like China, India and Brazil, are making huge investments in green technology and infrastructure that are going to be the basis for the economy of the 21st century, while the U.S. falls further and further behind. The gap between rich and poor will continue to widen, and the already stressed fabric of government will be ruptured still further. By the time we change course, there may be damage done that will take a very long time to repair, if it’s repairable at all.
If there’s anything for progressives to take solace in, it’s that we can expect the Republicans to be similarly unsuccessful at repairing the economy – through active malice in this case, rather than incompetence – and we can expect, in another two years, that the voters’ anger will similarly fall upon them. But that, I realize, is no comfort to people who are suffering now, and who now have little hope of seeing their situation improve any time in the near future.