Thoughts after the election

If you believe the after-election commentary, the American people have “repudiated the policies of this administration and embraced conservative ideals.” Republicans are saying that gaining control of the Senate and increasing their control of the House is “a mandate” from the American people. In a sense it is, but almost certainly not in the way that they apparently believe and, more importantly, want you to believe.

For the president’s opposing party to take control of Congress during midterm elections is nothing new. Republicans did it in 1994, and Democrats did it in 2006. Historically, it’s unusual for the opposing party not to gain seats during the midterm. The media pundits and party propaganda twits will come up with all kinds of complicated reasons, often based on the belief that the winning party lied or cheated, but I think the real reason is much simpler: voters are expressing their discontent by throwing the bums out.

Throwing the bums out is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, they just elect a new crop of bums and it’s business as usual.

The American electorate has an incredibly short memory and an even more limited imagination. They’re smart enough to see that things aren’t working well, and know that we need a change in Congress. But their imagination is limited to one of two flavors: Democrat or Republican. They’ll happily throw out the Democrats in favor of the Republicans, despite having been burned by the Republicans eight or ten years ago. And at some time in the near future they’ll throw the Republicans out in favor of the Democrats, forgetting that things weren’t any better the last time Democrats controlled Congress.

For some unfathomable reason, Americans lack the imagination to throw out Democrats and Republicans. That would send the right message. As it stands, all we’re doing is swapping one crowd of blood sucking parasites for another.

I liken it to being given the choice of having your face slapped repeatedly or getting punched in the gut repeatedly. We get tired of slaps after a while and switch to the gut punchers, but then our stomachs start to hurt and we go for the face slapping again. But what we really want is for people to stop hitting us. And yet we don’t have the imagination or the will to do anything about it.

In part, that’s because we long ago allowed Congress to make rules that enforce a very strict two-party system. The party that has the most seats in the House or Senate gets to make rules and control what legislation is presented. That in itself encourages an adversarial relationship, which is especially bad when the President’s party controls one house and the opposing party controls the other. In that case, the opposing party is forced to do whatever it can to block the president’s every move. To do otherwise would alienate their base and anybody else who might be discontented enough to vote for them during the next election cycle.

When the president’s party controls both houses of Congress, we’re in real trouble. Especially when they hold a super majority that can completely block every move of the opposing party. In that case, there is no opposition to whatever grandiose scheme the president’s party can dream up. We usually regret such laws that are enacted without careful consideration and lively debate. Giving a single party full control of two of our three branches of government is dangerous. So far we’ve been fortunate that the parties aren’t quite as tightly controlled as they could be. It’s a good thing that sometimes a party member will vote against the wishes of the party leaders.

We’re best off when one party controls the Executive branch and the other party controls the Legislative. In that case, the two parties are forced to work together. When one party controls both houses of Congress, the people who elected them expect them to Get Things Done. Sure, some of the party faithful think Congress should adopt an adversarial posture towards the president, but that leads to idiocy like the Clinton impeachment trial. Most of the people will want Congress to work with the president and enact meaningful legislation. Or, one would hope, repeal stupid legislation that was imposed on us when one party had a little too much power.

If Republicans can work with the president over the next two years (one year, really, because the second year will be dedicated to the mud slinging and political posturing we call campaigning), Republicans have a chance of gaining the White House again, and perhaps can keep from losing too much ground in the Congressional elections. If, however, they adopt an adversarial role and refuse to work with the president, the 2016 elections will be a repeat of 2008.

What I’d really like to see, though, is a meaningful third party or, preferably, a serious independent (i.e. no party affiliation) movement. Our system of party politics, especially the artificial two party system, is a serious impediment. It just encourages tribalism and perpetuates the dysfunctional governance we’ve experienced for the last 25 years or more.