Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Mid Term Elections

The economy is the bottom line
By Ian Williams
Asia Times 4 November 2010

WASHINGTON - With the Democrats holding onto the senate, albeit barely, and the Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives following Tuesday's mid-term elections in the United States, there is still not likely to be a dramatic change in the policy of the United States.

Above all, President Barack Obama remains in the White House with a veto that the Republicans cannot surmount, not least because many of the so called "Blue Dog" Democrats who so often acted like a Republican fifth column actually lost their seats. So the result was not the Tea Party tsunami, not least with the resounding defeat of Christine O'Donnell in Delaware but it was certainly more than a storm in a teacup.

The good news for democracy is that the US elections reportedly experienced a record turnout. The bad news is that that was just over 41% of registered voters, who amount to only 71% of eligible US citizens. So all it takes for a landslide is a vote of some 15% of Americans and a switch by just a handful of votes. The result does not signal a huge popular upsurge, let alone a tectonic shift in the bedrock of the American body politic, as a quick look at the map shows.

The heavily populated and urbanized East and West Coast stayed Democrat, in the senate, the House and the governorships. In California, despite the huge personal fortunes of the Republican contenders being brought to bear, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown comfortably won the senate seat and the governorship. In New York, both Democratic senators and the governorwon handily, as did the Democratic contender for the attorney-general, who is the watchman for Wall Street.

Democrat senate and House leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, despite being used almost as swear words by the Republican campaign material, actually won re-election
comfortably. Landslides are relative at the best of times, and the whole US system is designed to ensure that not too much can change in one election - which is another reason for the low turnout.

But while the Republican strode to victory on all the things they are against, by getting the majority in the House they have fitted themselves up. After two years of trying to frustrate every Democratic initiative, and blaming their opponents for the economic crisis, they are now in charge of spending and tax-setting for the next two years. In short, they are responsible for the deficit. They should be prepared since their incumbent leaders were responsible for building it to the heights that Obama inherited.

The split control means that the Republicans cannot actually take initiatives that do not have the support of the president and the Democrats in the senate. If they want to make Obama's day, they will continue the campaign of negativity they have maintained for two years and attack him continuously.

The polls show that even with the lost support from the continuing economic doldrums, Obama is actually more popular than the Republican party now. With two years more of gridlock, the anger they exploited this time will splash back on them. Almost certainly, the Tea Party candidates lost the Republicans the chance to take the senate, but enough of them were elected to make it highly likely that the Republicans in congress will be culpably uncooperative for the next two years.

The world watches
So what do tonight's results mean for the rest of the world? Interestingly, foreign relations were not a big issue. For example, in an election dominated by anger, conservatives were unsure whether they should condemn Obama for continuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or for not withdrawing.

Tea Party candidates refused interviews with the "mainstream media" who might have elicited views on the rest of the world and their followers are from a long tradition of American isolationists and exceptionalists who had certainly put foreign relations very low in their priorities, unless it was to find out which African country they thought had given birth to Obama.

Relatively muted compared with previous years, there is a persistent susurrus of repudiation of international organizations and the United Nations, and there were the populist jibes, from both sides of the partisan divide, about China. International agreements on almost any issue from disarmament to climate change will almost certainly fail ratification in the senate.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's supporters were praying for a Democrat defeat, they will find it will do little good. If the Republicans choose to challenge Obama on foreign policy issues, they risk serious alienation of those whose anger voted them in. That anger was based on the economic situation and a certain degree of amnesia about whose policies actually brought it about. A demand, for example, that the US continue to give billions of dollars to a foreign government that refuses to listen to Washington is not one that is a winner outside some neo-conservative and Christian right circles.

Obama will certainly not neglect US commitments to the rest of the world, but he can scarcely risk taking too high a profile if he seems to be neglecting the domestic economy, whose care and resuscitation will clearly absorb much attention, even though he seems to trust Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to cover his back there.

However, the worst effect for the rest of the world is that, despite the setbacks, the fiscal and trade deficits and the military over-stretch, the US is still the locomotive of the world economy. And thanks to its dysfunctional system of government, ossified over 200 years, it is off the rails with no clear hand on the controls.

The US economy needs decisive action and leadership, and the elections have made it even less likely than before that it will get it. That is bad news for the rest of the world, now matter how much schadenfreude other countries might derive from seeing the giant cut low, they will be hurt as well if it stumbles.

Ian Williams is the author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military
Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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