In which I absorb the lessons of the mid-terms, am confirmed in my belief that it should have been Madam President, and advertise some good telly

So, the mid-terms in the US have delivered the Obama White House what the president himself has called a "shellacking". He has promised to try harder. Here's what I take from the results:

  • Americans have voted out the party in power for three elections in a row. That's unusual... remember, the Democrats controlled the House for 40 years not so long ago. Lots of Americans seem intent on voting for change again and again until they find what they like.
  • They won't ever find what they like, because what many are looking for is a more secure world where America ruled the world. They want the 1950s or, at a stretch, the 1980s back. They want to be the dominant power. They want job growth in manufacturing. They want no China or Brazil or Iran or India.
  • Most also want the major parties to work together - to cross the aisle - something that was much more common a generation or two ago.
  • The more they vote for change, back and forth, the more divided and polarised Congress gets and the harder it gets to make change, so it's all counter-productive.
  • That polarisation is both abetted and reflected by the cable news media, which goes after angles rather than facts.
  • The expectations around President Obama were simply too great to carry.
  • The junior senator for Illinois was too green for the White House and got played by those who revel in the Washington swamp.
  • Hillary Clinton would have been a more successful president these past two years.
  • Obama misread his first two years. He wanted to govern from the centre, and so wasted months on healthcare trying to get bi-partisan support while he was being demonised as a socialist, death-panel-creating monster. If he wanted to start with healthcare he should have rammed it through, given the mandate he had and then tacked back to the centre. Or he should have started with something else.
  • Having the presidency, the House and the Senate doesn't do the dominant party much good because they cop all the blame for everything.
  • Obama will do better in the next two years because he has something to kick against and voters will turn on the Republicans as they too fail to live up to expectations.
  • And people will turn on the Republicans, because for all their big talk on spending cuts, the only way to really eat into the deficit is to cut something people love, such as Social Security or Medicare or bombs.
  • Obama can win in 2012, but it's not a sure thing. The mid-term reversal is the biggest in 70 years. Still, both Reagan and Clinton lost seats in their first terms and comfortably won a second.
  • The Republicans claim the American people are calling for a repeal of healthcare and cuts to government spending. That's a misinterpretation. Spending cuts sound good until they hit your state, your town, your job.
  • Voters distrust Republicans at least as much as Democrats. Marc Rubio was bang on when he blamed both parties for the country's economic woes and said Republicans would be wrong to read this as an embrace of them.
  • Rubio is a star in the making. Hints of Obama 2004.
  • The Tea Party did OK, but not great. They're harnessing a mood of protest, but not because even all their supporters know and believe their policies. They're essentially libertarians and as such remain fringe. 
  • The Tea Party is still as much a threat to the Republicans as it is an opportunity. Zealots are hard to control and some in this crowd will run screaming at the military-industrial complex as much as at the liberal, biased media.
  • The Tea Party are, surprisingly, rejuvenating the Republicans. A woman from India is now governor in South Carolina and a Latino from Florida is in the senate.
  • The Republicans will be changed by the Tea Party, but not as much as people think. The establishment absorbs.
  • The Tea Party is there for a good time, not a long time. They will implode. But they'll get financial backing for as long as they want it. The powerful rich pushed the US to the right by using social/moral issues in the previous generation. But the moral majority is gone. Now they have a cause that's a more natural fit - economic conservatism rather than more conservatism.
  • Sarah Palin cannot win the presidency.
  • CNN monitored the Twitterverse and found that most tweeters in all but one state were voting against something. Only in one state were most tweeters voting for something. Three-quarters of Americans distrust Congress. Cynicism reins.
  • An election is a moment in time. War was everything a few years ago, now it's nothing. The economy is the only thing that matters and it's bad.
  • The economy is likely to be better in 2012, in part because of Obama's stimulus. He will have a better narrative and a better chance.
  • US debt is horrible. But austerity is worse. Just ask the 1920s. And the percentage of US spending that goes to pay debt is actually lower under Obama than the late 1980s and most of the 1990s (interest rates are down). Yes, he will have a better story to tell.
  • Climate change legislation in the US is dead. Obama chose healthcare and lost his chance. Almost all Tea Party lawmakers think climate change is unproven or a hoax. That's bad for the rest of us and any post-Copenhagen deal.
  • Nuclear security efforts could be threatened as well. Perhaps. That's bad for us as well.
  • Incumbency used to a huge asset in the US. Now it's a liability.
  • Obama won the rust belt - Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan - in 2008. He lost it this week. He needs to win it back in 2012 to stay in power and that means jobs. The good news for him is that he still has some friendly governors in those states to sing his song and jerrymander electorates.
  • Republicans are united in spending cuts, lowering taxes and repealing healthcare. But there are wedges. On defence, drugs, lobbyists/corruption and crucially, immigration.
  • All either party could talk about this election was the other's failures. If the Democrats get some runs on the board and can find some positives, they will do better next time.
  • The clear message from the electorate is that they want politicians to work together; yet they've voted in a more divisive crowd. That can't end well.
  • Republican leader Mitch O'Connell said last week that his priority was to ensure that Obama is a one term president. They're not going to start working together.
  • Ex-CEOs such as Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman couldn't win, even spending tens of millions of their own cash. Americans hate corporates even more than they hate politicians, it seems.
  • Jerry Brown is back in California. I love this story. He was governor in the '70s for crying out loud, and now he's governor again. By my guess, the first politician since FDR to serve a third term in the same job?

That's what I jotted down yesterday, anyway. If you want to see what I really think, check out Media7 tonight on TVNZ7. I'm on there with Dr. Paul Buchannan talking to Russell Brown about the mid-terms.

And check out Q+A on Sunday on TV1. We've got Simon Schama on from New York to talk about the Obama presidency, its failings and future.

Comments (13)

by Tobias Barkley on November 04, 2010
Tobias Barkley

The result I was most cheerful about (even if I didn't learn anything) was Bennet beating Buck in Colorado. He trailed the entire campaign and started closing only after slamming Buck for being in climate change denial.

by Graeme Edgeler on November 04, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Is incumbency really a liability? How many incumbents were re-elected? And how many were defeated?

How is it clear that the electorate wants politicians to work together? Didn't it seem that a lot of voters were either annoyed with Obama for doing too much, or not doing enough?

And gerrymandering doesn't help win a presidential election.

by Andrew Geddis on November 04, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Probably fair to say that incumbency no longer is the overwhelming advantage it once was, rather than it is "a liability" ... most incumbents in both the House and Senate won re-election.

by Tim Watkin on November 04, 2010
Tim Watkin

I'm talking about incumbency at a party level. At an individual level, you're right, it varies. But I still reckon the prevailing mood is 'kick the bums out', and it has been for a while.

Pew was recording last year that only about a half of voters wanted their representatives re-elected and although the final votes don't reflect that, in lots of cases it came bloody close.

The 'work together' message came through in a bunch of exit polls. As for gerrymandering, the creation of small states in the Rocky Mountains is an example of gerrymandering which has long influenced presidential races. But I wasn't actually referring to presidential races. I meant that with some state legislatures still onside, Obama and the Demcorats may get some 'redistricting' benefits when it comes to turning the tide and winning back the House. Political momentum in one branch can cross over.

by Kyle Matthews on November 04, 2010
Kyle Matthews

Jerrymandering electorates won't help Obama get re-elected will it? It might help Democrats take back the house.

Presidential election is an electoral college election based on statewide votes. So fiddling with boundaries doesn't help you win a state.

by stuart munro on November 05, 2010
stuart munro

 They want job growth in manufacturing...

I think that like many countries, they do. But I don't believe this is incompatible with the rise of the BRICs so much as it is incompatible with some of the lobbying interests that dominate US politics, and perhaps with the reigning narrative that the US achieved wealth without government intervention.

You might consider Dupont as an example,since they led modern corporate accounting in the US, and have been from time to time both innovative and successful.

'DuPont has over 200 years of proud service to the U.S. Government.'  -from their website.

by Andin on November 05, 2010
Andin

Impressive. And you are getting your own "shellacking" over at Kiwibog. Doubly impressive, getting up their noses.

by Tim Watkin on November 07, 2010
Tim Watkin

Hi Andin, yeah saw David's post and had been meaning to respond, cos he's wrong on a few points...

He reckons Fiorina and Whitman losing is evidence that money doesn't buy elections. That's nuts. A record $4 billion was spent on these mid-terms, which means a whole heap of people think money is hugely important. Obama's campaign success was built on pulling in the most donations ever. It's who these people are, where they come from and what the represent that's the problem; money still matters.

He suggests the stimulus hasn't worked because unemployment is higher than Obama predicted it would be, when every credible source will agree that the bailout of the auto industry saved at least a million jobs... and the non-partisan, independent Congressional Budget Office has detailed reports on how much, much worse the recession would have been without the stimulus.

David says people were voting against deficits, and that's broadly fair. But he acts as if the deficits are an Obama problem... Clinton had the US economy in a surplus and Bush grew the deficit. Obama's supposed to have fixed that in two years?

While David says people are paying a quarter of their tax in interest payments, the fact is interest payments for debt are down under Obama, as I wrote. Only something like 3% of US GDP is now spent paying off debt according to Time magazine, so I don't know where he gets his figure from.

And "a mood for change"? That's what Obama thought. I wouldn't read much into that. There's disgruntlement and disillusion, but it covers both parties.

by Mark Wilson on November 07, 2010
Mark Wilson

There is something wrong here - has this blog been hijacked by aliens?

The man does a political analysis that is not handicapped by left wing ideology and therefore actually relates to the real world? 

As private eye would say "shome mistake shurely".

How did this get past Andrew and Claire?

by Tim Watkin on November 07, 2010
Tim Watkin

Because all private eyes are drunks or do bad Bogart impersonations, Mark? We have all kinds of viewpoints around here.

However, it seems many disagree with you. I've finally bothered to look at some of the comments on Kiwiblog. Good grief there are some invertebrate thinkers over there. You know what I learnt from that lot? It seems that...

  • Anyone who isn't a pure laissez-fairest is "uninformed" rather than "of a different opinion";
  • the bailout of the auto industry didn't save any jobs (GM and Ford, for example, would have been fine. And the moon landing was filmed in the Arizona desert);
  • it's bad for government in a recession to save the jobs of government employees as government jobs don't really count (private sector animals are more equal than others);
  • there is no groundswell of anger whatsoeever in the US against big corporates or Wall St;
  • Obama is un-American and "ashamed" of being American (at least there's one nutter who accepts he was born there and not Kenya);
  • and Obama's tame healthcare bill was in fact hard out leftist nastiness (which seems to describe me as well – and those were the polite ones).

Oh, and Adolf 'seriously?' Finkle-what's-it has – whilst mis-spelling my name and asking why anyone would care what I wrote, after he's spent many months reading my posts – decreed I'm anti-American... something that my American wife, son, mother-in-law, brothers- and sisters-in-law, nephews,  niece and friends should be warned of, surely.

I couldn't go on... The blinkers are well attached. Isn't it funny how they never come over here and try to have a rational argument according to Pundit rules? They just stay in the warm, comfy swamp, licking each other's backs.

Yet even if they ignore any number of economists and believe the likes of Krugman and Stiglitz are socialists, here's a link to that independent Congressional Budget Office's assessment. Ach, what's the point? They're probably all Kenyan, socialist, Keynesian luvvies in the CBO (and in Treasury, for that matter), and some self-taught blog commenter knows waaay more than them or Ben Bernanke...

Really, how dare I say that the stimulus has had an impact? Thank goodness I didn't suggest that raising taxes is a good idea, because only some leftist "tripe-writer"... hang on, that's what the 'former god of all the hands-off folk', Alan Greenspan thinks.

Andin, please, never ever make me go back into that infestation again!

by Claire Browning on November 08, 2010
Claire Browning

How did this get past Andrew and Claire?

Maybe because it was a smart analysis? That's where you're failing, Mark, not the ideology. Do try to keep up.

by Andin on November 09, 2010
Andin

Andin, please, never ever make me go back into that infestation again!

Sorry. And I thought this was good analysis as well as yours.

How Obama Saved Capitalism and Lost the Midterms - NYTimes.com

by Tim Watkin on November 09, 2010
Tim Watkin

Andin, funny you spotted that. A colleague of mine pointed me to Maureen Dowd's piece on the same day, quoting a Republican House leader saying America had spoken and said 'enough' and was sick of healthcare reform and the rest... and the kicker was that it was Gingrich in 1994.

And I saw the link to the piece you mention and read it... Excellent, huh? I have seen some criticism arguing that actually the Dems did quite well out of corporate donations this time round. But apart from that, it's hard to quibble with the author's thesis. There's nothing socialist about what Obama did!

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