The Thinker

Greater national dysfunction dead ahead

In about two months, citizens will go to their polling station and choose their elected officials. God help us, because no matter which way we are likely to vote nationally, we’re going to be screwing ourselves and our nation.

If the election were held today, it looks likely that Republicans would retake the House, but the outcome is much less certain in the Senate. There is some possibility that Democrats will retain both houses of Congress, but even in that event Democrats will be trying to govern with much smaller majorities. Regardless of who wins, Barack Obama will still be our president. This means the only possible outcome is more dysfunction between branches of government, exacerbating the sorts of tactics that Americans are already sick of.

Polls show that voters don’t like either Democrats or Republicans and pine for this idealistic notion that both parties will somehow put nation above party. As if. Instead, they have to vote from the slate of candidates they got. The dynamics suggest that in about ten percent of the House races (a remarkably high number) voters will vote their local bum out and vote in the bum from the other party.

Sweeping your current bum or bums out of office may give the illusion of changing the dynamics, but it will not. Partisanship will only increase, if that is possible. So if you think you are already frustrated with government now, just wait until you vote your passions and elect a newer even more highly partisan set of into office. I’m afraid Extra Strength Tylenol won’t cure this headache.

Only one part of the Republican agenda is clear: they will spend most of their time until the 2012 elections investigating the Obama Administration at length for alleged malfeasance. It will definitely take some digging because so far, the Obama Administration has been remarkably scandal free. At least Republicans will know what scandal looks like, because they are experts at it. Whether malfeasance actually exists or not is beside the point. One of the few powers Congress can wield in this environment will be the power of investigation so all that is needed is the possibility of malfeasance. So instead of just bottling up appointees and judicial nominations, Republicans will likely bollix up the rest of government as well, ensuring little actual governing is done. This will, of course, give them something to run on in 2012: can’t you see how little Democrats accomplished?

The other power Congress holds is, of course, the power of the purse. With an expected influx of Tea Party activists, expect that a sizeable minority of Republicans simply won’t vote for anything that resembles spending. If you want a preview, simply look to California where its dysfunctional system requires two thirds of both houses to pass a budget. While that is not true in Congress, in the Senate either party can effectively hold the other party hostage unless one side can cobble together sixty votes. The House though may start to envy the Senate. Pity orange-skinned speaker-in-waiting John Boehner. He will have the impossible task of trying to govern House Republicans, a sizable minority of whom won’t allow themselves to be swayed on any issue. After all, they will have gotten into Congress on a platform of no compromises anytime, anywhere.

Yet spending bills must be passed at some point, right? In California, the answer is “no” as long as Republicans stayed united. The ensuing mess led to massive cuts and layoffs, leaving California a largely dysfunctional state and, not coincidentally, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. I suspect that we will see a repeat of the budget showdown of 1995, which furloughed millions of federal workers and left most agencies, except the few that had an appropriation, mothballed. This time though, emboldened with fresh Tea Party members, it is likely that House Republicans simply won’t give in at all. The Senate is likely to be more reasonable, but it’s unlikely an acceptable spending bill will emerge from conference that either the House or the Senate will endorse.

Even if one emerges, can it sustain a presidential veto since in all likelihood such a budget will extend or expand tax cuts for the rich while decimating social spending? The answer is already clear (no), but if dealing with the budget were not enough, there are other recent laws, such as the health care reform law, that Republicans are chomping at the bit to repeal. They ultimately won’t go anywhere either during this presidency, but it will engender a lot of negative energy and hot air.

I expect that unstoppable force is going to meet immovable object. The result will not be pretty and will sour voters even more on government. Congress may look at its current dismal approval ratings as the good old days.

Is there good news in all this? Yes. The good news is that the issues animating voters to the polls this year, our less than stellar economy, is likely to finally recede in voters mind in 2011 and 2012 as our slow recovery is actually felt by the working class, albeit in fits and starts. The economy won’t be quite what it was, but we are likely to see the unemployment rate recede to more politically acceptable levels. Both sides will of course claim credit for it while castigating the other side that the economy isn’t doing better. Voters will get to sort it all out again in 2012.

The surest path to returning a Republican to the Oval Office in 2012 is of course to bet against our recovery, which is why disingenuous Republicans will be doing just that. They will secretly welcome high unemployment and exploding deficits, because it undermines the Obama Administration. In short, there is little upside for Republicans to improve the economy, deficits and the employment picture, particularly if it vindicates the unpopular but necessary long-term strategies Democrats and the Obama Administration have been fostering to achieve long-term growth.

I wish there was an island I could go somewhere until it all blows over in 2012. Meanwhile, I fear for our republic. Governing requires compromise and there will be none of it until 2013 at the earliest. My only question is who will ultimately be held responsible for the ensuing mess? The Republicans of course hope it will be Democrats and the Obama Administration, but if 1995 is any guide having the ability to govern but refusing to do so sours voters’ opinions of you, particularly when social security checks don’t arrive on time. In short, obstinacy is an effective short-term strategy, but a poor long-term strategy for staying in power. Say what you like about the Democrats, but at least they governed, despite near unanimous Republican opposition.

Consequently, any electoral gains Republicans make in this year’s election are likely to recede in 2012.

 

2 Responses to “Greater national dysfunction dead ahead”

  1. 8:56 pm on September 8 2010, tag1555 said:

    Actually, if you look at what happened after the ’94 elections, a divided government actually passed quite a lot of landmark legislation, such as welfare reform. Having one party in commanding possession of both Congress and POTUS isn’t healthy in our system, as it disenfranchises one party and gives the other the feeling that since they’re in charge, they don’t have to compromise on anything. We’ve seen the result of that the past couple of years. Time for a change.

    I’m less sanguine about the recovery. Jobs simply aren’t coming back, even as other indicators start ticking up, and there’s no reason to expect they will. This is a seismic shift in the economy, and its going to take many years to sort itself out, with a lot more pain to go around.

  2. 9:29 pm on September 19 2010, Mark said:

    Unfortunately, I see no sign that there will be compromise. The sad truth is that spending needs to be cut AND taxes need to be raised and I see no consensus forming around that particularly when Republicans have branded themselves as the “no new taxes ever” party.

    I agree on the issue of jobs. Those jobs that are created are likely to pay less. It will get ugly out there.

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