Hopes and Fears on Election Day

28 Oct

It is to the consternation of reformers and the delight of conservatives (small c) that little changes on Election Day. In an election season based upon fear – of The Other, the status quo, taxes, healthcare, immigrants – it should be reassuring to know that the world will not end on the evening of November 2nd, no matter the results that appear.

Based upon the issues receiving the most attention nationally, it may come as a surprise that the status of witches, an armed insurrection, and the banning of mosques will not appear on the Congressional agenda in the next term. Our legislatures are naturally reactionary, as members only vote on the bills presented, and most have little power to have any substantive effect, especially as a freshman Senator or Representative. The President has the ultimate power to set the agenda, only partially shared with Congress in the cases of divided government. So if Christine O’Donnell (a long shot), Sharron Angle (a better chance), or Mark Rubio (put money on it) win next Tuesday, what effect will they personally have on the Senate? Almost none.

Image courtesy podbop.org

The base of each party is either blissfully unaware or purposely self-delusional about the most basic of truths of our legislative system: a vote for or against a bill is of no more or less effect if the legislator is a pragmatic centrist or a die-hard ideologue. There is no Tea Party vote that is worth two. There is no Liberal vote that automatically doubles the appropriation of every line item in the spending bill. The Tea Party is about to have their heart broken, the way the grassroot Netroots did years before. Elect a barn-burning Tea Party champion, and they will have the same practical effect as 95% of other Republicans. In Utah, reliable Republican Senator Bob Bennett was dumped for purer Tea Party candidate Mike Lee. How will his voting record differ when elected? It won’t. Even if the Senatorial stenographer is forced, by Tea Party decree, to use a red pen (made in America by non-union non-illegal immigrants) when recording his votes, it counts no different. And he will introduce less legislation, and have less effect in committee, than Senator Bennett did. Sorry.

No pure Tea Partier will be elected enough times to rise to a leadership level to make a serious impact, and any Tea Partier elected next week that does last that long will be nothing more than an insider, corporate Republican by the time they take a committee chair.

No, instead it is in the margins and at the leadership level that some small change can occur. The House is currently composed of 256 Democrats and 178 Republicans, the Senate 59-41. . Where are the Republicans, pundits and Democrats ask, for us to work with on the other side of the aisle? Why are they so recalcitrant? The Republicans they used to work with were voted out of office in New England, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina. The 178 Republicans left are in safe seats. The members in those 178 seats never reached out across the aisle, and their constituents don’t want them to compromise. Democrats, last year you had something better than a Republican from New Hampshire to work with – you had a member of your own party. The failure of that overwhelming and filibuster proof majority to enact legislation will be recognized next week, as those swing seats return Republican overwhelmingly.

Likewise, Democratic leadership is in trouble. New Yorker’s should cheer for Harry Reid to lose – Chuck Schumer, a strong Democrat from a strong Democratic state, would likely take over leadership. A prime example of how the Democrat’s are unable to effectively govern is that they choose leaders like Reid and Daschle, in weak positions at home, who have no room to either compromise or take bold positions. Hyper-partisan and embittered Nancy Pelosi is another matter – she has the political capital and strength of seat to be a leader, but not the social skills, patience, or aptitude to drop a grudge to win a vote. No matter – Pelosi is about to be demoted, and in or out of office, Reid seems destined for a smaller role. Closer to home, Rep. Slaughter should be fired for her abuses in the Rules Committee alone – for the first time in 221 years, not a single piece of legislation was brought to the floor open for an amendment. That’s the post-partisan Hope and Change I know Obama was going to instill to Washington. Unfortunately, she has as much chance of losing as O’Donnell has of winning.

Americans of pure motive and progressive (small p) spirit should hope for one thing next week: a Republican take over of both the House and Senate. Any other combination produces two years of gridlock. If power is truly divided, both parties share responsibility for the country’s problems. John Boehner becomes Gingrich, and Obama becomes Clinton, and taxes and the deficit have a small chance of being addressed. If the Democrats keep both houses in a weakened state, then we endure 111th Congress Redux, a sequel with less action and more fighting, and everyone waits for 2012. Worse, if only one house swaps, then nothing will ever come out of conference committee, and both parties will argue they need full control in 2012. President Obama has always been more of an individual force than a Democratic insider – more Change will occur if he places his 2012 fortunes above those of his party, and deals with Republican leadership for the next two years to strengthen his own hand (at the expense of Democrats as a whole).

In New York, there is even less change coming. The Assembly is stuck. The Senate will swap to a minor advantage for the Republicans, and Dean Skelos may not survive as leader. Andrew Cuomo is going to enter into office in the peculiar position of having a large electoral victory, but no mandate to actually do anything. Rarely is the faux incumbent placed in office simply for not being “The Other Guy.” Cuomo’s campaign technique of staying low and letting Paladino self-destruct will work politically, but leaves him, unlike Spitzer, weak entering office. The strongest man in the Albany three-way is Sheldon Silver. Woe to Western New York.

4 Responses to “Hopes and Fears on Election Day”

  1. Tom Dolina October 28, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    Another good read, but I’d like to add that while no single one votes carries more weight than others, in our legislative branch, stupidity can and often does caucus…

  2. Brian Castner October 28, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    I’m over it. Let the 20 new Tea Party members caucus and vote against the larger Republican majority. It’ll lessen their chance of being re-elected, and empowers regular non-crazy conservatives next time. Win.

  3. Lefty October 29, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    Lost in all of the Hope v. Fear is the fact that a message can resonate with people and change the course of elections. I am happy with that.

    While President Obama has not really delivered on his Hope agenda, at least that is what I gather from people on the left…he was able to win based on a message that overcame the machine. Clinton was the appointed one in the beginning after all.

    Same goes for the Tea Party. While I do not agree with all of the message, I like the fact they bucked the party. Even if this means some ‘reliable’ people were sent to the curb.

    Until we have elections based on ideas and performance, rather than party affiliation, government is not going to work like everyone wants it to.

    So maybe the ‘Hope’ and ‘Fear’ campaigns were not perfect but at least they provide a road map to future groups (on both sides) that a message or idea can win. Serving notice to politicians that they really are there to serve their constituents and not their party and if they do not serve their constituents to their satisfaction, they now have to fear being sent to the curb.

  4. Brian Castner October 29, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    It certainly changes the course of the elections, but it affects the legislation produced afterwards only minimally. That’s my point. Something about new bosses and old bosses.

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