America's system of separated powers is wondrous to behold. Even considering just the two elected branches, Congress and the Presidency, its complications and intricacies baffle foreigners and Americans alike. Moreover, the 50 states remain politically pivotal, especially immediately after the decennial census. Population changes among states shift their relative weights in the Electoral College, and control of state governments post-census can shape congressional districts and therefore election outcomes. Not surprisingly, interpreting the biennial elections between presidential years is both critical and highly uncertain. In 1994, an unexpected tsunami gave Republicans control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1954, and was widely interpreted as signalling Bill Clinton's impending defeat in 1996. Nonetheless, Clinton won re-election easily. By contrast, the 2006 Republican "thumpin'", as George W. Bush described it, did indeed foreshadow Barack Obama's 2008 victory.
This November 2, Obama was not on anyone's ballot. During his first two years, he seemed indifferent to, or in denial about, the political firestorm growing around him. In January 2010, for example, Arkansas Congressman Marion Berry described Obama's candid remarks to the House Democratic caucus. Fearing the rising backlash against his programmes, especially health care, Democrats asked how they could avoid a 1994-type cataclysm. Obama answered: "Well, the big difference [between] here and 1994 is you've got me." Apart from unrestrained egotism, Obama's answer reflected awesome political misjudgment. Bill Clinton, who defeated a Republican incumbent with a 91 per cent approval rating following the first Gulf War, could easily have said exactly the same thing in 1994. Had Obama learned nothing?
Equally telling was Obama's blithe observation, also in January 2010, that he would rather be a "really good one-term President than a mediocre two-term President". Obama's seemingly casual response showed his confidence that his mere election was so historic that he had no need for an actual record of accomplishment. Moreover, his disdain never diminished for his fellow citizens, whom he once described as "clinging to their guns and religion" against the unknown. Other Democrats exhibited similar contempt for mere voters. In October, for example, Senator John Kerry deigned to observe about the common folks: "It's absurd. We've lost our minds. We're in a period of know-nothingism in the country, where truth and science and facts don't weigh in. It's all short-order, lowest-common-denominator, cheap-seat politics."
By November 2, however, Democratic candidates at every level were fleeing Obama's embrace. They deeply feared precisely what Republicans sought: a national referendum on his policies and performance. Obama played directly into their hands via a question from the Reverend Al Sharpton: "So even though your name isn't on the ballot, this is about your agenda and about the progress we've seen you begin to make over the past 20-odd months?" Obama responded unhesitatingly: "Absolutely." And how did he greet the prospect of massive Republican victories? On October 30, he mused: "We can spend the next two years arguing with one another, trapped in stale debates, mired in gridlock, unable to make progress in solving the serious problems facing our country...or we can do what the American people are demanding that we do. We can move forward." So much for a free market in ideas in the Obama era.
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once
- The Parable of the Stupid Samaritan
- Pope Frank: In the Footsteps of St Francis
- The Middle Kingdom's Problem with Religion
- We Abandon Christians in the East At Our Peril
- Feminism Or Islamism: Which Side Are You On?
- At Last: Gove Goes For the Culture of Excuses
- Is There a Way Out of the Tories' Modernising Mess?
- Online Only: The Kenyatta Dilemma
- Cameron is the Euro's Best Hope for Survival
- Census That Revealed a Troubling Future
- The Servant of the servants of God Departs in Peace