Mid-Term Elections: T Minus Five

October 28, 2010

After U.S. voters go to the polls in five days, the composition of the Congress will be flipped on its head or almost so, and that change is expected to usher in two years of stalemate, unlike the activist 111th Congress.  Democrats now control 256 seats in the House of Representatives, identical to what they held going into the 1994 election when they emerged holding just 204 seats and 26 less than the Republicans captured.  This time could see heavier losses.  In the 1994 vote, the Democrats also lost six of their 53 senate senate seats, thereby relinquishing that majority as well.  With 57 senate seats now, the lead is safer but hardly foolproof.

The U.S. election of 2010 has also been compared to the mid-term election of 1982, because the U.S. economy was very depressed then as well with a jobless rate of 10.8%.  Incumbents are held accountable for good or bad economic conditions, and that’s particularly the case now because the Republicans have a done a better job than the Democrats of defining Barack Obama and his record by blending some easily observable truths with some irrelevant facts and  big miss-truths.  Unemployment is clearly higher than what the administration had predicted, but most economists agree that it would be even worse if there had been no fiscal or monetary stimulus.  If Obama is a flaming socialist, so are the leaders of almost every other nation, democracy or otherwise, because the United States has a comparatively thinner social safety net than many other countries.  Former President Nixon, who built a career on opposing communism, would also have to be branded a socialist because he was prepared to sign a health care bill nearly 40 years ago that was very similar to what got passed on Obama’s watch.

As things turned out, the 104th Congress in 1995-6 had a number of notable accomplishments.  Bill Clinton was innately more comfortable with domestic centrist politics than Barack appears to be, so he may have been more adaptable to the shifting legislative reality than Obama could be.  Clinton was not as susceptible to the elitist label that has been pasted on Obama.  His regular guy persona made him a more sympathetic figure when thrust into a disadvantageous political situation.  Many Americans do not identify with Obama, the child of an inter-racial marriage and somebody who spent part of his boyhood living abroad.  The President has accordingly been an easy target for all kinds of unsubstantiated accusations like being a Muslim or having a birthplace outside the U.S. and therefore not being constitutionally eligible to be president. 

Obama’s critics have used the truth that he lived abroad in Indonesia from the age of 6 until 10 to special advantage to paint him as different culturally from most Americans.  And when he wasn’t in Asia, he lived in Hawaii, which is a good part of the way to Asia.  The experience of living abroad, even at such a young age is hardly without precedent among past U.S. presidents.  Half of the first six, founding fathers if you will, spent considerable time in Europe, including John Adams for about ten years.  Since 1979, that is from the age of 18, Obama has lived in the Continental 48 including the last 29 years east of the Mississippi River.  In one of this election’s ironies, Obama’s lived an American experience to a far greater degree than Rupert Murdock, owner of News Corps, which is among the administration’s fiercest critics.  Born and raised in Australia, Murdock was 42 years old before purchasing a U.S. property.  While a disqualification beyond any reasonable doubt to becoming president, that background does not prevent one from having enormous influence over who runs the U.S. federal government and what gets done in the name of the people.

The legacy of the Obama presidency will be decided in the next two years.  Such may hinge on how resourcefully he handles the political changes that next Tuesday brings, and it’s also possible that still unknown events will be thrust upon the U.S. government and be America’s seminal test of our era.  You just never know.

Copyright Larry Greenberg 2010.  All rights reserved.  No secondary distribution without express permission.

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