Jeremy Cutcher is a political science senior and Mustang Daily liberal columnist.
Last week’s election held few surprises, except perhaps for Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell. Polls as far back as early summer were showing an “enthusiasm gap” between Democratic and Republican voters. This, combined with a depressed economy and historical patterns which show the president’s party often loses seats in the midterm elections, made a volatile situation for Democrats this election cycle.
There seems little doubt that the enthusiasm gap should be credited largely to the Tea Party movement, which first gained national attention during the health care debates. I originally viewed the movement in a negative light — it seemed all the yelling and shouting at town hall meetings was designed to halt any reasonable discussion of reform and of the proposed bill. The anger seemed artificial; the fears irrational (remember death panels?).
Yet, here we are today a year and a half later and the Tea Party continues to have a profound influence on American politics. Although many on the left decry the Tea Party as an Astroturf movement (as compared to a Grassroots movement), I do not doubt much of the anger tea partiers feel is honest. It is, however, rational anger expressed in an irrational manner; it is anger over the status quo without thought as to the culpable parties which made our current state of affairs the status quo. Platitudes about cutting spending and lowering taxes may appeal to one’s ideological leanings but accomplishes very little pragmatically. Anger alone is unproductive, but anger combined with actual prescriptive policy recommendations helps keep politicians honest, and this second area is where many tea partiers could improve.
It seems apparent that the poor economic conditions create much of the current antipathy, thus anger should be directed at the factors which helped sink us into a deep economic recession: shady lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis, large investment banks that spread the risk throughout the financial system and the pattern of deregulation that has been propagated by conservatives over the past few decades, especially the deregulation of financial markets.
One of the most compelling moments of the recession was when Allan Greenspan, one of the architects and proponents for deregulation, admitted to the House Oversight Committee that the recession had revealed a “flaw” in his belief of markets regulating themselves through “invisible hand” mechanisms.
While Tea Party sentiment helped spur conservative enthusiasm, its viability as a unified national movement is much more ambiguous as Tea Party candidates fared poorly in elections where they had to appeal to a wider electorate — like Senate and gubernatorial races — than in more localized elections with more homogeneous constituencies.
Take Christine O’Donnell for instance. Fueled by Tea Party anger and anti-establishment sentiment, she won the Republican Senate primary over long-time Congressman and moderate conservative Mike Castle, who was expected to win Joe Biden’s old Senate seat by a wide margin.
Instead, O’Donnell was seen as too inexperienced and divisive to make a successful attempt, losing the race to Democrat Chris Coons. Or look at Sharron Angle, who lost to Harry Reid when most pundits thought Reid’s time in the Senate had assuredly come to an end. Or Joe Miller in Alaska, who won the Republican primary but looks as if he will lose to incumbent and write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski.
In more localized elections, however, Tea Party candidates did rather well, giving Republicans a clear majority in the House. This majority, plus the infusion of candidates with strongly conservative values, will assuredly swing the House far to the right. The question then becomes: will the newly elected legislators follow through on their promises of moving us backwards (i.e. repealing Obama’s health care bill) or find a way to compromise to move this country forward?
The simple fact is Obama has tried to rid the country of this cancerous form of politics which has gripped the country for the last few decades — while he was in the Senate, he was a proponent of a single-payer health care system. As president, Obama did not even address a single-payer system but rather started the debate with the public option, exasperating many on the left.
But Republicans know their history. They know Clinton became vastly more popular when he decided to legislate from the center-left following the 1994 midterm elections, enabling him to successfully seek a second term. Republicans’ goal from day one has been to make Obama a one-term president. What does that leave for the next two years? Most likely, Republicans will legislate to benefit their own party, regardless of what the country needs.
And I thought Republicans were all about “Country first.”