The Grandpa Gazette

Location: Fairfax, Virginia, United States

Friday, October 22, 2010

Palin' by Comparison

As several of you have asked for my thoughts on the mid-term elections (well, OK, one of you), I have been trying to think of something I can say that would be any different from what you read every day. I don’t know that I’ve found it, but here goes.

Three distinct groups are snapping at the Democrats’ heels. The first of course is the Republican base, the yellow-dog Republicans, who are somewhere around 30 percent of the electorate. They are fired-up and ready to go this year, but that’s absolutely normal for the party out of power.

Second is the Tea Partiers. By this I mean not people like Sarah Palin, who is a lifelong Republican party activist, but rather those who have never been active much or at all in party politics, but who are frightened and worried about their personal financial situation and that of the country, after the most severe recession since the 1930’s. It can’t be emphasized enough that this is a very unusual recession, one in which unemployment is high (and therefore the threat of unemployment hangs over the heads of many who are employed), the stock market is at best treading water, and, most importantly, five million mortgages are, as the bankers quaintly say, “non-compliant.” Millions of others are paying the mortgage on houses that are worth less than they owe, and others are worried about how they would pay if they lost their jobs – knowing that selling the house is often not an option. This group understands very little about politics, government or economics, but they know when the country’s in trouble, and the only way they see to fix it is to throw the rascals out. The number of people in this category who are active and vocal – going to Tea Party rallies and so forth -- is probably quite small, but a lot more will vote.

The third group is big and medium-sized businessmen. Admittedly many of these fit into my first group, and some others into the second group, but I list them separately because I am struck by the particular vehemence they are showing this year. The US Chamber of Commerce seems to be convinced that Armageddon will occur unless Obama is stopped in his tracks. This to me is much more bizarre than the Tea Partiers. Paulson, Geithner and Bernanke saved the big banks (with two exceptions) and the big companies like AIG and General Motors. (It’s true that some people in this group say the companies should have been allowed to fail, but I refuse to believe that any significant number of them would in fact have permitted that to happen were they in power.) Of course FDR saved the capitalist system too, and got no gratitude for it from those he saved, but what on earth has Obama done to get these super-rich fatcats so riled? What wave of government intervention are they talking about? From my perspective, it’s mostly been intervention in favor of the big banks and corporations.

In any event, the combination of these three, and especially the energy (and money) they are demonstrating, is bad news for the Democrats. They will lose the House – 538 predicts a net gain of 49 seats for the Republicans, from 179 to 228; Larry Sabato predicts a gain of 47. The CW is that the Democrats will hold on to the Senate; 538 gives them 52 seats, Sabato 50 or 51. But several Senate races are very close (Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington, Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia) and the Senate could clearly go either way. And if the Senate is narrowly divided, will Joe Lieberman – unpopular in Connecticut and facing defeat or retirement in 2014, continue to vote with the Democrats? Governors are a similar story. 538 predicts an increase in Republican governors from 24 to 30, Sabato predicts 32.

And what does this mean? Contrary to what many Tea Partiers seem to think, it won’t mean change. It means gridlock. Whatever passes the House, or both houses, will be vetoed if Obama can’t accept it. So “Obamacare” won’t be repealed, immigration won’t be reformed, climate change will continue to be ignored. The Bush tax cuts will probably be extended, because Obama won’t want to veto that bill. Attempts will be made to cut some government programs, but it will mostly be symbolic (NPR) because the Republicans can’t agree on what to cut and know better than to cut popular programs. The unpleasant part is that the next two years will be filled with bitter partisan rancor, few if any efforts putting country above party, and jockeying for 2012.

Is Obama’s re-election endangered? Much depends on how he handles the next two years. He has not shown himself particularly skilled at the politics of governance (as distinct from the implementation of governance). Much also depends on the economy; it will be better, but how much better? But the Republicans have a big problem: who do they run? It’s one thing to put up a know-nothing in the 19th district of Alabama who doesn’t believe anything his high school taught, it’s another to ask the country to vote for a Palin or Angle or O’Donnell or Miller or Perry or Rubio. Romney remains their most presentable candidate, but I don’t think he can possibly win the nomination.

I like to say in these pieces that’s it’s all very interesting, because I’m a political junkie and I do find it interesting – usually. This time I just find it utterly discouraging.

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