Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Stormy Present

Well, that sucked to an unbelievable extent.  Considering there was no realistic chance of the Republicans taking the Senate, yesterday has to qualify as fairly close to a worse case scenario.

Unsurprisingly, this has left me pretty down, as it should anyone who likes the idea of nuclear disarmament and not setting fire to the atmosphere.   But what does it mean in real terms?

I can think of at least three questions buried inside the one above.  First of all, what does it mean for the political landscape in 2012?  What specifically does it mean for President Obama?  And lastly, what does it mean for the people of the United States (and the world) for the next 24 months?

The answer to that first question depends on which of three scenarios play out.  The first is that the Republicans fail to fix the economy, and indeed make it worse.  Considering they share a great deal of the blame for getting the US into these straits in the first place, and various GOP big-hitters have turned a refusal to accept they did anything wrong into campaign pledges, this what I think is most likely to take place, and would hopefully lead to another major swing; this time in a direction slightly less pleasing to Ayn Rand, John Galt, and pretty much Satan himself. 

The second option is the exact opposite; the Republican House actually does turn the economy around.  I'll believe it when I see it (and I'll want some fairly significant analysis of the situation even then), but if they can do it, then they deserved to take back the House, and I'll just have to live with the fallout elsewhere. Much as I dislike the GOP, and actively despise some of their most high-profile members, this election was predominantly about the economy [1], and if they can fix it, they'll have done what they were asked to do.

The worst possible result purely in political terms (I'd much rather the economy was fixed than my guys win) is that the GOP does nothing to repair the economy but it rebounds due to other factors, giving the layman the impression that this ridiculous willingness to hand the car keys back to the drunk who crashed the car was a good idea.  I don't know how likely that is, because I'm not an economist, but that's the thought that's going to keep me up at night.  The first scenario, whilst unpleasant, is the most likely, and will at least have the advantage of potentially handing the House back to the Democrats in 2012.  The second will almost certainly never happen, but it would demonstrate that the Republicans have finally worked out how to responsibly govern again, something I'm not sure has been particularly true since Nixon.  The idea that the GOP watches the economy repair itself and then gets a few more years to set gays on fire and hurl them into mosques is more than I can stand.

Next: what of Obama?  Certainly, he's going to have real trouble getting things through the House, but then he was having exceptional trouble getting things through the Senate in any case.  Frankly, if there's one good thing to come out of yesterday's catastrophe, it's that the House has become more relevant.  Sure, it's done it by becoming just as overwhelmingly fucking mental as the Senate is, but the latter's despicable refusal to ignore the other half of the legislative branch was a disgrace for reasons beyond party lines.  One would hope that what is liable to be a reduction (potentially a significant reduction) of filibustering in the next two years will make people realise that the last Senate's refusal to do one goddamn single fucking thing had nothing to do with opposing the "tyranny of the majority" and everything to do with partisan politics.  Naturally, this is unlikely to ever happen, but I guess there's always hope that a critical mass of people will start paying enough attention (of course, it was assuming that was a possibility that informed my predictions in the last post, and we saw how wrong they were...)

Given this, then, and the fact that the expectation is always that Presidents get their most important goals out of the way before the first midterms, I'm not sure how much difference it will make.  Depending on whether the GOP distinguish or disgrace themselves in the next 24 months, it may affect Obama's re-election chances a little, but I don't think it will make a huge difference.  The crop of potential Republican presidential candidates is as anaemic as it was on Monday, and that's what makes me fairly confident of Obama being re-elected.  A lot of pundits are predicting an attempt by the Republican House to impeach Obama - based on comments various Republican leaders have made - but for now I think it's pretty unlikely.  There's just no there there, y'know?  The people who want Obama impeached for literally anything (and don't kid yourself, there are thousands of people exactly that stupid) are going to vote for his opponent in 2012 in any case, and I doubt you could peel off more than a fraction of a percent of the potential "undecideds" by holding hearings into Obama's over-use of Post-It notes, or whatever the Hell they decide they're going to throw at him.

That's politics in 2012 dealt with.  This still leaves the fairly major question of exactly how boned the American populace is.  I'm going to guess "extremely", but maybe I'm wrong this time.  Maybe it's a case of "better the devil you know", though of course in this case it's a bit closer to "better the Devil you know fucked your entire country".

See also.

[1] Well, it was in very large part (see this post for a nice graphical explanation).  I think there's also something to be said for this interpretation as well.  It would be a mistake to put too much weight on the "Confederate Party" angle - those sorts of accusations are too serious to be thrown around trivially - but it's not hard to believe it played more of a  role than anyone on the Right is prepared to admit.  You only need to look at the tactics that swept Nixon into power to see that, and whilst we've had more than four decades of progress since then, it's not at all clear to me that all those years compensate for having a black man in the Whitehouse.


Gooder said...

Economically wise it's an open bet since truth is these days there is less and less a state goverment can do to influence an increasingly global economy. The economy is pretty much it's own beast these days and it's a matter of wrangling it as best you can.

With America's economy slow and China making big steps forward we're getting closer to the point where America will no longer be the only super power. Which whilst potentially being a little scary I think is in the long term for the better.

Tomsk said...

Actually there's plenty the US government can do in terms of both monetary and fiscal policy as they have a manageable national debt and, importantly, control of their own currency.

The real problem with America is not that they can't do anything but that it is impossible to do anything in such a dysfunctional political climate (even with control of every lever of power the Democrats were unable to pass a fiscal stimulus of anything like the needed magnitude). This will only get worse under the new regime so you're certainly right to say that America will stagnate relative to China for the foreseeable future. Whether that makes the world safer or more dangerous, who knows? But I suspect it will only lead to even more demagoguery in US politics.

SpaceSquid said...

Yeah, I'm with Tomsk on this one. I don't have any problem with the argument that the economy is less directly controllable by individual nations these days than it was in the past, but that hardly translates into their being nothing - or even particularly little - that the US government can do.

It's worth noting that fully half of the Congressional Blue Dogs that demanded the stimulus be reduced to such anaemic levels were voted out on Tuesday. This would probably result in some schadenfreude on my part were the results not so thoroughly depressing in every other conceivable way.

Gooder said...

Oh, yeah you can try to stimulate etc. But if the global picture is down (as it is currently) there is only so much you can do and for a rosy picture style recovery everybody wants and/or promises you're reliant on the global picture improving.

Plus added I guess if you either have to spend you way out of it as seemed to be the plan or just knuckle down and wait for a 'natural' pickup, problem is nobody seems to want to do either.