US election is a wake-up call

The Democratic Party took a whipping in the United States House of Representatives in Tuesday’s mid-term elections.

The new Republican majority has made it clear it has no interest in bipartisan consensus, suggesting a logjam in Congress which will be a “ball and chain” on the policies of President Barack Obama, including US foreign policy.

Their objective of rolling back Obama’s domestic policy agenda can affect foreign countries if it curtails the stimulus spending in the dormant US economy. This would have implications for employment, affecting remittances, tourism and investment.

The reversal of fortunes for the Obama administration and the Democratic Party reveals several factors. First, it shows the deeply entrenched conservative outlook of the average American; the triumph of the repetition of simplistic slogans such as Obama is a socialist, Muslim, not born in America over the more cerebral delivery of President Obama.

Second, the expectations of the majority of voters are based on their needs and wants and are not tempered by reality. Many who voted for Mr Obama two years ago expected their economic situation to have improved dramatically, despite the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Third, the president is not omnipotent because his degrees of freedom are severely constrained by checks and balances, in particular Congress. The president may be able to go to war but how much can be spent on prosecuting the war is controlled by Congress.

It is hard to withdraw from the Iraq-Afghanistan military quagmire because opponents backed by defence contractors will accuse the White House of being soft on defence. The reduction of expenditure on the armed forces is effectively blocked by what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex”.

The vast sums spent on lobbying ensures that special interests get what they want, ie financial sector bail out, but avoid what they do not want, ie gun control.

Fourth, voters who formed the coalition that put Mr Obama in office exhibited attention deficit. In their naiveté they thought they had changed the US in one act. They did not sustain their focus and their involvement in the political process. They let others decide the political future for them.

Fifth, Black voters got complacent or suffered a rash impatience and did not come out to vote for the Democrats. They need to remember that the mouth that is closed does not get fed. Voting involves choosing who gets to the table and that in turn determines how resources are allocated to whom and for what.

Sixth, fear mongering still exerts an influence over voters. For example, that heath care reform is Socialism.

The result of the mid-term election is a wake-up call for both the political parties and the launch of the campaign for the presidential election of 2012.

The Republicans have to be careful that the Tea Party does not pull them so far to the extreme right that they lose their traditional base, and the Democrats have to rebuild the coalition that elected Mr Obama.

The lessons for Jamaican politicians are, first, hope is very quickly overwhelmed by unrealistic expectations; second, it is easier to mobilise the discontented than to ask people to be patient and, third, governing is not only about difficult policy decisions but it is also important to communicate effectively.

Our old folks told us “take sleep mark death”.

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