Last night in the US the Republican Party swept back into power in Congress. They won enough seats in the midterm elections to control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, meaning that they can now pass practically any bill they want. President Obama will either have to sign the bills or veto them, meaning it looks like the last two years of Obama’s presidency will be more of the same deadlock that has characterised American politics over the last four years. So why are American politics so deadlocked? And what do the Republicans have to do with it?
First off, it is pretty undeniable that US politics are not functioning in a healthy or effective way. The government seems to lurch from crisis to crisis, and all the infighting does not inspire confidence in the US’s allies. This last two years has also been the least productive the Congress has ever had, with very few bills actually being passed. The US faces huge challenges, especially in its immigration policy and in its finances, and nothing is being done. Congress fails to take any real decisions, and neither party wants to come to any compromise with the other. Of the Democrats and the Republicans though, the real problem in recent years has been the Republicans.
It helps to make clear that to an outside observer the Republican Party seems – and I’m not exaggerating – absolutely insane. While there are moderates, many of its members oppose any gun control measures, believe abortion should be illegal under any circumstances, deny the existence of climate change, oppose long term unemployment benefits, and finally don’t believe that the government should guarantee health insurance – making them the only Western nation to do so. The acceptance of all the above mentioned things is not even discussed in most other regions like Europe – health insurance is seen as an absolute right, and the right to bear arms seems bizarre. This all makes it hard to comment on some aspects of American politics, because it means getting into a mindset where a party that takes these positions can regularly win elections. However, it isn’t so much these positions that are helping cause the deadlock, but the way the party has changed over the last few years.
Ever since Obama was elected and carried out his healthcare reforms, offering insurance to all Americans, the Republicans have been devoted solely to blocking everything he does. When they gained control of the House of Representatives in 2010 (half of the Congress), they caused crisis after crisis in their effort to repeal the healthcare reforms, culminating in a complete shutdown of the government last year, when they refused to pass a budget unless Obamacare was repealed. Thanks partially to the efforts of the anti-government Tea Party, they have become much more ideologically driven, and less inclined to compromise on anything. Congressmen like Ted Cruz now make a point out of never working with the President. However, despite all this deadlock, they have still managed to win the elections? How is this possible?
The answer is clear when you look at opinion polls. 59% of voters are dissatisfied with the Obama administration, and 60% with Republican leaders in Congress. 53% have an unfavourable opinion of the Democratic Party, and 54% with the Republican Party. America is a nation that is deeply angry with its politicians, but one that has nowhere else to go. The two parties have a stranglehold on American politics, and it is almost impossible for an independent or a third party to be taken seriously. When they do run, they get blamed by the losing party for taking votes away from them. In addition to this, despite their utter deadlock in Congress, there are things that the Republicans and Democrats agree on, such as the idea that neither the political system nor the nation’s foreign policy need any rethinking. That means that these issues never get brought up for discussion, further frustrating the voters.
It is this frustration and deep dissatisfaction that has led to the Republican win. Anything was better than more of the same. Unfortunately for the US, it is likely to only lead to more deadlock, more political posturing, and the same lack of progress. After the immense amount of money spent on these midterms, the next two years are likely to spent be simply waiting for a new president in 2016.