Midterm elections are often a time for voters to voice their anger or disapproval by voting the bums out. This year many older voters went to the polls to clean house while the younger voters stayed home.
Barack Obama was elected in a storm of enthusiasm in 2008 — he had so much promise after the dismal performance of George W. Bush. His supporters, often young voters, thought they elected a warrior president. His administration started out with a flurry of programs and projects to get the country out of the recession. It looked like he got the message and things were starting to move. Cracks started to appear in the foundation of the administration’s plans. Guantanamo prison was supposed to be closed…it is still open. We pulled out of Iraq and focused attention on Afghanistan but things got delayed and there were setbacks. Healthcare reform held great promise in the early stages but the final product was watered down and confusing. The economy is improving but thanks to the Republican obstructionism and budget limitations, the government sector is still largely in recession. Businesses, small or large, are the engine that runs the economy but the government sector is the wheels….or the brake.
Obama’s second term seemed to be short on accomplishments. It seemed to be treading water. The warrior president never actually put on his armor or lead the charge. Sometimes it looked like he and his cabinet were transformed into a befuddled group wandering along the yellow brick road toward Oz….Barack of the meek and mild with a brainless, nerveless and heartless group of advisors.
So now the Republicans control of both houses of Congress but they will stumble and implode before long. They are a divided and inexperienced group of ideologues who will be led by dishonest and incompetent leadership. That’s not to say that the Democrats are any better than the Republicans; at least Democrats are less divided among themselves.
Congress has been dysfunctional for years but it is getting worse with every election. Why? I believe term limits are the cause. Term limits became the big solution for our governmental problems a couple decades ago. The limits pertain mostly to local and state politicians. There were plenty of examples of long-term state legislators who felt entitled and wielded too much power and many of them were corrupt. Voters failed to mount effective campaigns with viable and qualified — and well funded — opponents to replace the entrenched politicians — what democracy is about. Instead, activists in the states opted for the structural change by imposing term limits by referendum or other means. Before long the offending politicians were gone, along with the experienced and effective legislators. They were replaced with inexperienced and ineffective ideologues or single issue candidates. Surprise, surprise…not much gets done when the legislature is inexperienced and incapable of compromise. These new politicians were subject to the same term limits as the folks that were the initial targets so what do they do? With very little to show for their time in the legislature, these still inexperienced and uncompromising dolts file for election to Congress. Since they have few accomplishments to use in their campaigns the election spirals into a storm of negative claims and counterclaims until some are eventually elected to congress.
The US Congress is a different animal from state legislatures — well funded interest groups and lobbyists control much of what goes on. Some of these new folks, who can’t legislate themselves out of a paper sack, find themselves in a situation that seems so alien that all they can do is occupy the seat and cling desperately to their ideology. The incompetence and gridlock problems that developed in the state legislatures are compounded and magnified in Congress. As a result, there is a lot of heat but not much light in the new congressional environment. We often hear pundits and commentators asking what happened to the compromisers and the collegial and agreeable atmosphere in Congress that we recall from past decades….back when things seemed to work better. Term limits eliminated much of the state-level training ground where future Congress members could learn how to get things done.