It has now been several weeks since the US mid term elections are over. The Republicans took control of the senate and increased their majority in the house. When looking at both the overall election results and some interesting individual races my reaction can be summed up by a phrase I muttered just after I read the results "good luck with that".
While the results were not surprising, they are interesting. Why would American voters reject the Democratic party and Obama? The economy is growing (2.8% in 2012, 1.9% in 2013), unemployment is falling (5.8% in October), the stock market is at an all time high, and the budget deficit is under 3% which most economists consider the healthy limit and which was one of the Republicans primary concerns in recent years. While these statistics do not seem overly impressive, compared to the Euro zone, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and almost anywhere they are actually pretty OK. Though one may find many problems in Obama's economic policy, I would dare to say that they still chalk up a victory for Keynesian stimulus policies as opposed to the Austrian austerity policies which we have seen in Europe. This is a difficult admission for me as I was on the Austrian side of the debate.
The best way to explain the popularity of the Republican party is the fact that it is a mid-term election and people are often upset at the President's party in mid term elections. In a brilliant op-ed, a political scientist and a graduate student offer the idea of getting rid of the mid term elections. They highlight the problem of gridlock in Washington. Indeed the events of the last few weeks highlight yet again the problems with the US political system.
For a few days after the election, it seemed as if there was a sliver of hope for cooperation. For starters Obama would not face any more elections, not that 2014 was his election, but he still had to look out for party interests in a way that he won't have to in 2016. The Republicans had control of the Senate and House and would need to show America that they were not controlled by radical Tea Party members or that they were a not a party of 'no'. They would need to show that they are interested in governing. Perhaps there could be cooperation on a comprehensive immigration reform plan or on two important free trade deals in Europe and Asia.
That of course seemed to be wishful thinking at best. Obama is taking executive action regarding immigration reform and Republicans have not reacted kindly to the measure. Despite pro free trade ideology, it is doubtful that Republicans will be interested in giving Obama fast track authority without getting something in return. In short, we can expect another two years of a government that refuses to offer pragmatic solutions to America's problems.
This should come as no surprise. This is in part due to political system we have. Grid lock is a designed function of the American system. When one branch of Congress is from a different party than the President there will be gridlock and there is no way to resolve that gridlock. For an interesting overview of this concept read this piece on Juan Linz's work. Elections come and go, but most of the time gridlock continues. While there are many solutions to the problem most of them, including the idea to cancel mid term elections, requires a constitutional amendment which makes them unlikely.
The hope then lies on Americans to choose respectable politicians who are willing to compromise and willing to consider realistic, pragmatic solutions (yes this is a criticism of Tea Party Republicans). Yet, when looking at how crappy politicians fared in the election, the answer is surprisingly well. Let's take a look at Idaho and Kansas for example.
In Idaho, the Republicans won every state wide office. Despite a growing population, it is ranked last or close to last in every statistical category (disposable income, education spending, doctors per population, Internet speed, and the list goes on). This has happened when neighboring states have all improved in these same statistics. Idaho choose to bring back the same politicians who are responsible for the mess. While Otter boasted of a Magic Valley Miracle, the Salvation Army paints a different picture. For an interesting read on how Ybarra could win the superintendent race, read this article on the power of the Republican brand. Regarding Otter, a court ruled a large 60 million dollar broadband contract invalid because of cronyism. Of course AJ Bajukoff mentioned this on the campaign, but he had a D next to his name.
In Kansas it was even worse. Governor Brownback tried a tax experiment to turn Kansas into a Texas, it failed. Somehow he was reelected despite leaving his state with a 1 billion dollar fiscal whole. Someone forgot to tell him that there is no giant oil industry in Kansas like there is in Texas or no massive tourism sector in Kansas like there is in Florida! Oops.
There is an old saying that says every nation deserves their government. While the United States does have some structural problems that share part of the responsibility, the American people need to take responsibility for who they vote for as well. Until they do all I can say is, good luck with that, you'll need it.