by Reynold N. Mason
Atlanta June 1, 2010 - In 2008, candidate Obama sailed into office on a tide of change. A Washington outsider only two years in the Senate, he was a fresh face as yet untainted by the rough and tumble of Washington politics. His appeal lay not just in his ample oratorical skills but in his promise to change government as we know it. He would veto earmarks for pet projects, reform health care, close Gitmo and end the war in Iraq. He would tackle climate change, and begin to end our addiction to foreign oil by developing clean renewable sources of energy.
The current crisis
But finding his administration in the worst financial crisis since the great depression, the President has been unable to deliver on his campaign promises. His sole accomplishment after nearly two years in office is health care reform, now the law of the Land. The battle over health care shook congress to its ideological core and caused fissures in the political landscape, making it difficulty for the President to push his agenda. Republicans found themselves on one side of the political divide, with democrats on the other. There are now deep ideological divisions, even among democrats. Bart Stupak held out against abortion funding in the health care legislation, and Dennis Kucinich was persuaded to lend his support, only after some arm twisting aboard Air Force One.
The American people, wary of the transformational change implicit in health care reform, rebelled. They made town hall meetings last summer, an unpleasant experience for politicians supporting health care. Some expressed their opposition to the health care mandate while others, satisfied with their health care coverage, opted to oppose the legislation because they wished to retain their existing health care coverage. Said George Will: “85 per cent had heath insurance and 95 percent of the 85 per cent were happy with it”. Polls showed Americans opposed health care reform by a fairly wide margin. And shortly before the final passage of the legislation, public anger was in full bloom. In Massachusettes, Scott Brown, a long shot underdog, running on an anti-health care platform, overtook and defeated his democratic opponent. The seat he now occupies had been held by the late Senator Ted Kennedy for more than a generation. State houses in New Jersey and Virginia were also captured by republicans.
The deficit, had ballooned from $1.6 trillion under President Bush, to a staggering $13 trillion. Republicans smelled blood in the water and Democrats ran for cover. Senator Chris Dodd, longtime force on Banking Committee, has retired rather than face voters.. In Utah, republican senator Bob Bennett, who voted for the stimulus, was shown the door at the republican party convention in his state. In the primary elections earlier this month, the political purge was in full throttle. Senator Arlene Specter who switched parties to escape republican wrath for his support of the Obama stimulus and health care was sent into early retirement. And in Kentucky, newcomer, Rand Paul, handily defeated establishment candidate, Secretary of state, Trey Grayson, who had the support of the republican party. In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln, a reluctant supporter of healthcare, was forced into a runoff with lieutenant Governor Halter, in spite of strong support from democratic heavy weights Obama and Bill Clinton.
Voters on both sides of the political divide, angry about the deficit, Wall Street bailouts and jobs, are in the midst of a political purge. The prospects for incumbent insiders are dire. Many have opted to retire rather than face voters in November. Bart Stupak, after his brave anti-abortion stand and subsequent reversal, has retired; so has representative David Obey of Wisconsin. Even more ominous for democrats, (27) twenty-seven of their number, seeking re-election next November, are in districts viewed as tossups, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report. The only bright spot for democrats in last month’s primaries was Pennsylvania 12th, where Mark Critz, held onto his late boss’ seat. But Critz campaigned as an anti-health care, anti-abortion, and pro-gun candidate; he framed the issues as a protest against Obama.
Looking to November
Political attitudes are in a state of flux. Post health care electoral politics indicate a lack of loyalty to Obama. His coalition of 2008, new voters, blacks and hispanics has been split asunder by the political push and pull of emotional issues---jobs, deficits and immigration. Hispanics in particular, 67 per cent of whom supported Obama in 2008, are disappointed over his failure to deliver on immigration reform. Voters are reconsidering the role of government in their everyday affairs. The success of the Tea Party movement makes this evident, and politicians, feeling the squeeze, are cautious and more responsive. Democrats are running away from Obama in droves, even politely declining his help in their fledgling re-election campaigns. There will be a reckoning come November.