Realpolitik #4 – Midterm Madness: The Verdict

As we all know (I hope), the 2010 Congressional midterms have just been held, and the outlook is bleak for the Democrats; 61 seats lost in the House, 6 in the Senate; all this adds up to the greatest midterm defeat for a first-term President in nearly a century. Journalists across the ideological gamut and the world have been sounding the death knell for the Democrats and Obama; so, in the face of alarmist journalism and election that probably doesn’t make all that much sense to a lot of people (especially we non-Americans who find the very concept of midterm elections confusing and ridiculous), here’s a quick rundown of what happened, and what can be expected to happen in the next 2 years of the Obama presidency.

#1 – John Boehner is in as Speaker of the House and Nancy Pelosi is out

This is a scary thing; Boehner will undoubtedly set in motion the repealing of Obamacare. I don’t say this is a bad thing merely because I think universal healthcare is a universal human right; I say it because I don’t think it will convince America that the Republicans are doing a better job than the Dems.

America voted the Republicans in because they want new ideas, not negative versions of the ideas that the Democrats kept pushing in the previous two years. New legislation that emphasises a fresh start is the best way for Republicans to win over the hearts of American voters, and to make sure that Obama is a one-term President.

John Boehner, looking suspiciously like a post-op cosmetic surgery patient. As usual.

This means Nancy Pelosi is out as Speaker; she says she would like to continue as the House Minority Leader once Boehner comes in, but personally I don’t know if this is the best thing for the Dems. Despite the fact that she is a mainstay in American politics (her political homebase is California, part of the the Democratic heartland), her popularity has been on the slide for some time now. A CBS News poll had voter approval of just 11% for Pelosi, a catastrophically low figure. If she is to continue as the leader of the House Dems, she needs to show the ability to reverse the torrent of public sentiment against her and show the electorate that she can inject quality ideas into the legislative discourse that is likely to follow a more conservative tack come January.

#2 – Harry Reid still leads the Senate

This is a very good thing for Dems; going into the election, the Senate leadership was a toss-up between Reid and Mitch McConnell; if McConnell had fought his way into power, the consequences would likely have been catastrophic for Obama. McConnell has gone on the record saying that one of the foremost aims over the next election cycle for the Republicans is to ensure that Obama is a one-term President. Had McConnell been appointed Speaker of the Senate as seemed a distinct possibility going into the election, he would have been able to shape discussion and peddle his influence to convince the more centrist Democratic Senators to repeal healthcare, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and a number of other legislative actions that the 2009-10 Democratic Congress managed to pass.

With Harry Reid as Speaker, the task is (marginally) less difficult for the Democrats; Reid is a reliable, albeit slightly conservative Senator who has been a long-time member of Congress; however, time and again criticism has been levelled at him for his perceived self-serving tactics. Should the Democrats’ approval rating continue to stay at basement levels, it is not inconceivable that Reid may play up his more conservative ideology and leave the party machine high and dry in order to keep his own reputation in order. However, given the fact that Reid is not up for re-election until 2016, the optimist in me hopes that he will keep his ego in check and do his best to ensure that the Dems manage to keep hold of the Presidency when the nation goes to the polls again in two years time.


#3 – Barack Obama will become a foreign policy President

We’ve seen this time and again with Presidents who have suffered midterm losses; they focus less on ideologically-driven legislation such as healthcare reform and find themselves centering around the ironically safer ground of foreign policy. Foreign policy is an area where it is much easier to form bipartisan consensus, particularly given the primacy of national security in the post-9/11 era. So, what can we expect Obama to do with his foreign policy?

Firstly, it is likely that he will concentrate the vast majority of his political capital on Afghanistan. Having promised withdrawal by next year, it cannot be overstated just how important it is for Obama to stick to his drawdown deadlines. Should the unthinkable occur and the war continue beyond the scheduled period, there would have to be a very serious reason or Obama’s Presidential re-election campaign of 2012 would be in serious trouble.

The former National Security Advisor, Gen. James L. Jones recently handed in a letter of resignation, suggesting that Obama is taking his foreign policy commitments very seriously. The newly-appointed incumbent Tom Donilon seems to be something of a meeker advisor than his predecessor, something that will suit the ideologue Obama fine as he seeks to put his own stamp on the war. The appointment of Gen. David H. Petraeus as the commander of the Afghanistan also seems an astute decision; while his positions are clear, he is more amenable to compromise than the belligerent Stanley McChrystal.

Expect to see a lot of these two.

Elsewhere, I believe Obama will try to strengthen ties with China. Notwithstanding the recent butting of heads over the South China Sea, relations between the U.S. and China seem to be heading in the right direction. If the team of Obama & Hillary Clinton can find a way to see eye-to-eye with Hu Jintao & Wen Jiabao, it would take a considerable load of their back given China’s naval presence in a region that has long been the cause of concern for foreign policy wonks.


#4 – If the economy isn’t fixed, Obama is finished

This is my last and most crucial point. Despite all the criticism of nearly everything Obama has done since taking office, it all stems from one common source; two years into his term, the economy is still in a state of lethargy. Indeed, the economy has actually worsened since he took office. Unemployment levels have risen by 2 percent to 9.6, and the amount of homes that are underwater is growing every day. If these problems aren’t fixed in the two years before America goes to the polls again, Obama will lose.

Another thing; Obama has no real policy options that he can actually pursue to meet his economic goals. With the Republicans now controlling the House, there is no chance that a stimulus package similar to the magnitude of the 2009 version will get through Congress; given their rampant criticism of his wasteful spending, it would be political suicide for the Republicans to back another huge stimulus package. The other option is monetary policy, but that option has already be exhausted. Exchange rates are near zero, and unless the government starts actually paying people to take their money, there’s no way they can drop the cash rate again.

Basically, this means Obama is going to have to kneel and pray to the economic gods that self-correcting mechanisms will kick in and the American economy will right itself. Evidence suggest that this will happen eventually; for Obama’s sake, I just hope this happens sooner rather than later.


Righto, that’s enough to digest for this week, hope you all enjoy reading and I’ll catch you next week.


About Rage
Australian student with interests in music, film, literature, politics, pop culture and more.

One Response to Realpolitik #4 – Midterm Madness: The Verdict

  1. Pingback: Realpolitik #5 – Stop-START « EnoughEmpty

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