As I watched the midterm election results come in on Tuesday night, I was struck by a fact that I had been reluctant to accept over the past few months — that the Republican Party would most likely take over at least one chamber of Congress, if not both.
Now that that has happened, a few questions remain: Was this election a referendum on President Barack Obama’s policies and/or ideologies? Or was it a natural backlash due to anger over the stagnant economy? Finally, what does Obama need to do from here on to keep his job?
First, I would like to point out that the first two questions are unrelated, and if voters think they are, they are misinformed. Regardless of what you may think about deficit spending in an economic downturn, Obama’s stimulus plan worked in a plethora of ways.
As reported by Alan Blinder of Princeton University and Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics in July, the government’s overall macroeconomic response essentially staved off “what could have been called the Great Depression, 2.0.” This report, aptly titled “How the Great Recession Was Brought to an End,” gives quantitative evidence to support its claims. The authors assert that without a government response, gross domestic product would currently be 11.5 percent lower than it is, the nation would be experiencing a bout of deflation and, most significantly, employment would be down by 8.5 million jobs.
The Obama administration may have been too sanguine in promising that the stimulus program would keep unemployment below 8 percent, but the fact remains that it could have been much worse, had there been no action taken. As for voters’ opinions on the matter, it seems they have been clouded by the GOP’s political machine. Contrary to its claims, the stimulus program put millions back to work: Between 1.4 and 3.3 million people were employed just this year through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to a Congressional Budget Office report.
If Americans thought they were voting with their purses, they certainly didn’t do so accurately. That may not be the issue, as Americans have a deep-seated tendency to distrust and dislike a government that is too large or too debt-ridden. This is understandable, as it is our cultural heritage to rebel against unfair impositions of authority. We revolted against Great Britain during the early years of our republic in many ways, including by refusing to pay excise taxes on tea. Cue the Tea Party.
An outgrowth of resentment of big government, the Tea Party represents a wide swath of Americans who are tired of big spending and high taxes. Many Tea Party-backed candidates won on Tuesday, including Senator-elect Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Senator-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Others, like Christine O’Donnell, the “witch” of Delaware, did not fare so well. The impact of the Tea Party on a national scale is unclear, but the implications of its sentiments on regional levels are evident.
Republicans have already threatened to stop funding the new health care initiative that took effect on Sept. 23. They have also made it clear they wish to remain the party of “no.” Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) repeatedly stated there would be “no compromise” with the president. They also want to see him fail, at least politically. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
With staunch, self-identified enemies as forces in both chambers, Obama must be poised to endure what may quite possibly turn out to be the hardest two years of his life. One could hope for fragmentation between Tea Party insurgents and the Republican establishment. In any case, it may help to have antagonists working down the street from you, as was the case for Bill Clinton post-1994 elections.
I guess the bottom line is this: I hope you did better on your midterms than the Democrats did on theirs.
Joshua Youner is a freshman who has not yet declared a major. He can be reached at Joshua.Youner@tufts.edu.