james debate
james debate

Wednesday 16 December 2009

I imagine most people will read this headline and wonder if I have lost my mind. Aside from the fact that I lean Democrat, and that I'm far too well educated to ever vote for the current incarnation of the Republican party, there are very few people who have any sympathy for the group of political song and dance men that are currently preventing Americans from getting healthcare. But I have good reason for suggesting this, so bear with me.

harry reid congress

So by now it should be clear to everyone that the current set up in Congress just doesn't work. Even very obvious, unobjectionable, common sense pieces of legislation that are vital to the wellbeing of the country, like the Stimulus and the health care reform bill, are proving very difficult, if not impossible, to push through.

The problem here is not policy, or the legislation itself; as a matter of fact Obama might just be one of the most conservative Democrat Presidents of all time, relative to his era. Looking at the major legislation, we have a stimulus made up mostly of tax cuts, something the Republicans usually love, whereas in health care he opted for the really quite conservative Public Option and medicare expansion (another thing that Republicans previously wanted) as opposed to a single payer model that most developed nations use. Similarly the Republicans recently voted unanimously not to extend the Bush era tax cuts. Democrat voters are using these, and other, examples to point out how the Republicans have abandoned their ideology and seemingly will say just about any old lie to gain support. Republican voters simply don't know any better, and they don't care.

In this case, they're both right. The sad truth is that in America (also in other nations, but played to a far greater extreme in America) politics is nothing more than a sport. It may be a very high stakes sport which plays with regular people's lives, but it's a sport nonetheless, and every politician in Congress ultimately sees it that way, with few exceptions. So am I condoning this behaviour? Absolutely not, but that's just the way it is.

Take health care reform as an example. No sane person could believe the absurd claims Republicans are making about the reform bill, with "death panels" and "rationing" and "Government takeovers". This isn't even a matter of "liberal" vs "conservative", there is nothing "liberal" about treating sick people. Hell, conservatives in the UK have been championing the NHS for decades. The CBO report quite clearly shows that the healthcare bill which recently passed the House would bring about deficit reduction and expand healthcare to almost all Americans, so who could possibly be against that? The answer is "no one" of course, unless you've been scared into believing a bunch of fairytales, which is exactly what is going on here.

So where am I going with this? Anyone living in the real world suspects that The Republicans don't really believe the ridiculous things they're saying, they're not stupid. And I don't buy into the excuse that they're just being paid off by Insurance companies either, frankly almost all politicians are taking cutbacks from lobbyists, that's not exclusive to Republicans. This is simply an example of jaded politicians "playing the game", and therein lies the problem. In the end, senators and congressmen have no term limits, the only thing they care about is winning and keeping their job. For this reason they will simply continue to play the political game.

The Democrats have an overwhelming control of both chambers of Congress. The Republicans effectively have no voice in the country anymore. There is no possible way that they could pass any conservative legislation as things currently stand. This is why being a minority can have such a strong unifying effect on a group. The Republicans want to have some influence, and they know they only way they can possibly achieve that is if they all put their differences aside and vote as a unit of one. They know that they can't win, so the aim here is to prevent anything useful from being passed while the Democrats are in charge, so that neither party wins. The resultant drop in approval of Democrats then allows the Republicans a way back in.

You should be able to see now what the problem is. The Republicans need to fight the Democrats, just so that they can hold some influence over the nation's politics. That is why the Republicans are opposing the healthcare legislation, no matter how good it is, and no matter how much they would have loved to support it in previous years. Obama could propose pure Republican policies (and in far too many cases he has) and they would still oppose it. These are "small party" tactics, and we see them time and time again when one party is in the ascendency over the other, that's just how the game is played. Make no mistake, this unbreakable Republican opposition to Obama has nothing to do with his policies whatsoever, it is just the only way that they can win back some control over the country. And they have to do this precisely because they are in such a small minority.

Simply put: when one party has an overwhelming majority, the majority party wants to get things done and take all the credit for it, and the minority doesn't. When congress is roughly equal, both parties want to get things done and take equal credit, and this is the optimum state of things.

It is for this reason that I suggest that the country would be better able to move forward if Congress was more evenly divided. If we had a 50/50 split in the House and Senate, for example, I have no doubts that we would be passing a more effective healthcare bill than the one we are likely to get now, and more quickly too. The Republicans would have had no need of small party tactics, realising that it would make them look good to pass effective legislation, and therefore they wouldn't have opposed so many of the Democrats' clever cost saving measures. Look back to the 90s in America, arguably the most prosperous period for any country in all of history, in which we had a Democrat President and a reasonably even Congress.

Really these congressmen and senators are all interchangeable chess pieces for their political parties, the only thing that really makes a difference is the balance of pieces. It should be clear that Congress works best when there is rough equilibrium. When one party gains too much power you reach a breaking point, which we are now at, where what little remains of the minority party just becomes dead weight, and prevents anything meaningful from getting done. There are two things that can happen now. Either the GOP disintegrates and just dies off (unlikely, unless a third party really gains momentum), or the system can balance itself out, as it is designed to do, which in the end is what will probably happen.

Looking ahead to the 2010 elections, most people assume that the Republicans will make some small gains, if for no other reason than that the Democrats have so many more seats to lose, it's just logical. This, however, is by no means certain for a number of reasons.

Most obvious is the success of the really quite good legislation that the Democrats have just managed to sneak through by the skin of their teeth this year in the face of such impenetrable obstacles. I will go into more detail on how effective their work has been (and how much more effective they would have been if not for the small party tactics of the GOP) at a later date, but for now all you need to be aware of is that the markets have recovered, employment has levelled off, and if jobs start coming back early next year as most people expect, this will go down on record as the fastest economic recovery in history, which paints a somewhat more negative picture for the GOP.

But equally important is the effect of the growing support for the conservative party. People may remember that at the start of the year I anticipated that there was a real possibility for the Republican party to split in the coming years, a prospect which seems even more likely now. At the time I imagined that the lunatics would keep sinking with the Republican party whilst all the sane conservatives would jump ship to a new party. As it so happens exactly the opposite has happened, with the hard right wingers switching their allegiance to the conservative party. This has had devastating consequences in the recent NY-23 congressional election, which Democrats won for the first time in over a hundred years as a result of this infighting amongst conservatives, and more recently Rasmussen polls (which typically poll about 10% to the right of the rest of America) have shown that the conservative party has more support than the GOP right now, a situation which gives the Democrats a majority of support on the most right wing pollster in the country.

So while it is entirely possible for 2010 to be the final nail in the coffin of the Republican party, I suspect that the two conservative factions will put their differences aside come election time, and that the majority of American voters will be too oblivious to base their vote on the state of the economy or jobs market. Ultimately next year's elections look like small gains for the GOP, and it may ultimately be a productive turn for the country.

So let's clarify here. Yes the Republicans pretty much single handedly destroyed America, but I think you will find that most of the calamitous decisions over the past eight years come from the sheer incompetence of the administration in charge, rather than congressional Republicans (something that I should expand upon, but that's another story for another article), after all the Democrats controlled Congress for the final two years of Bush, to little positive effect. Members of congress ultimately just want to impress their constituents by looking productive, the real direction and drive comes from the White House.

So a Republican President in 2012? Absolutely under no circumstances. But a Republican boost in 2010? That might actually make Obama's job easier rather than harder.

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