Our electorate (one third of it) has very clearly spoken.
They’ve stated quite correctly that our politics is broken.
They kicked out Senate Democrats without the least compunction.
But will this really lessen our ridiculous dysfunction?
No doubt about it. The Democrats were crushed. David Letterman made the point: “Was the election a drubbing or a shellacking? Even the Washington Redskins are demanding that the Democrats change their name.” Cartoonists depicted an electoral “Wave”, ridden triumphantly by Republican surfers while it buried the hapless Democrats. Liberal satirists licked their wounds. Bill Maher had tried his hand at politics with a “Flip a District” competition for the most useless member of Congress. It was won by conservative Republican Joe Klein of Minnesota – who then easily won re-election to Congress.
How do we explain this Republican landslide? The most common answer is the unpopularity of Barack Obama, with ratings that hovered around 40 per cent positive to 49 negative. Yet his opponents’ ratings are much worse: almost 70 per cent disapproved of Congressional Republicans. Even so, there were barrages of cartoons depicting a crushed and humiliated President, with his agenda in tatters. Glen McCoy was among several who depicted him as weak: a before and after contrast showed him with bulging muscles in 2008, reduced to skin and bones in 2014. David Letterman joined the chorus with: “There was another fence jumper at the White House. This time it was Obama trying to get out.”
Even Democratic candidates distanced themselves from Obama, the most absurd example being Kentucky Democrat Alison Grimes, running against Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell. She insisted on her right to privacy in refusing to admit she had voted for Obama, though she had been a delegate to the Democratic convention. She lost convincingly. As the late evening host Seth Meyers noted: “For those Democrats who wanted to distance themselves from Obama, congratulations. You did.”
Obama was not without defenders. In fact, David Letterman pondered: “Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%. Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular,” Jon Stewart and company made the same point. So how do Stewart and other liberal satirists explain the Republican triumph?
First, the low turnout – not much more than a a third of those eligible bothered to vote. Though this is always a midterm problem for the Presidential party it was especially so in a year when there was a pervasive sense that the times were out of joint. Certainly there was little enthusiasm for Obama among one of his key electoral constituencies – the young. Only a quarter of the 18-29 cohort bothered to vote. Jimmy Fallon suggested that “if you want students to participate in something, maybe you shouldn’t call them mid-terms.” Seth Meyers urged the young: “It’s very important, so don’t forget to head down to you local polling place and cancel out your dad’s vote.” But the Obama , 2014, record did not inspire a generational revolt.
A further contributor to the low turn-out could have been tougher requirements to qualify for voting passed by Republican legislatures (though some were struck down by courts). Onion magazine suggested an even more rigorous approach: “Polling station volunteer checks three forms of voter’s D.N.A.”
Liberals cited one other factor in their search for reasons for the Republican victory – the great gusher of money following the Supreme Court’s open invitation to corporations. Andy Borowitz predicted that “the proxy candidates of billionaires” were likely to win 98% of the races “with the remaining two percent leaning billionaire.” Though it did not quite work out that way Borowitz offers us an expert who suggests: “We have not seen the super-rich maintain such a vise-like grip on the government since the days immediately preceding the French Revolution.”
One widespread interpretation of this election is that the American electorate has cast its vote against gridlock. Yet it’s difficult to see how overcoming gridlock can be achieved by further advancing the opposition of the executive and legislative branches. As Jon Stewart suggested, it’s’ “not as though the Senate was a functioning body before tonight.” So there’s much excited talk about consensus on such issues as repealing the tax on medical devices and not shutting the government down. Climate change? Well, we may be moving toward agreement on the Keystone pipeline, As Gail Collins suggests in her New Yorker column: “The only people who would seem to have an intense practical interest in which way this plays out would be Nebraskans who will have to live with the pipeline, and the people who control the tar sands land in Canada. That group happens to include the famous campaign-contributing Koch brothers.”
For the rest Onion reports that voters are eager to use the election “to help put the United States on a different wrong track. We’ve been going down the wrong paths for the past few years, and now it’s time to get some new people in there who can lead our country astray in a different direction.”
Clearly, there is no shortage of other wrong directions for us to take in the next two years