Amazing scenes last night as the Republicans took Ted Kennedy’s old seat in Massachusetts in a special election. The seat had been in Democratic hands since JFK won it in 1952. Probably a combination of national and campaign-specific issues at play (it seems the Democratic candidate ran a fairly lacklustre campaign). Independents have turned against the Democrats, having been firmly on their side since 2006. There is a general sense of anger about the rising deficit and the perceived lack of focus on job creation. There is an opposition to the proposed health-care legislation that I find frankly bewildering. Their current system seems a mess. From what I read about the version passed in the Senate, it seemed like fairly moderate and sensible change. The ‘Tea Party’ movement is the new force in conservatism, and they were behind the Republican here. Unsurprisingly, they’re an odd bunch and represent that anti-intellectual strand of American society that has seemed to periodically rise and fall in prominence throughout American history.
Anyway, the immediate upshot of this result is that the Democrats lose their ‘super-majority’ in the Senate, the odd rules that mean that you basically need 60 votes out of 100 to get anything done. This means that the health-care legislation is hanging in the balance, as the Democratic House leaders have said that they won’t pass the Senate version. This would mean that in order to get anything done, the Democrats would probably need to get the Republican leadership on board. This means it will be a watered-down version of the legislation at best. The Republican’s blocking minority, and the general received wisdom that this result has happened due to a perceived lack of focus on job creation, means that climate change legislation is now unlikely to happen this year. There is no way that there will be more Democrats in Congress after this year’s midterms, so it’s hard to see how the remainder of Obama’s first term sees much getting done.
As a general comment, American politics seems to be a mess. It’s nigh on impossible to get anything done, as they are in a semi-permanent election campaign. The poisonous atmosphere (on both sides) and 24-hour news cycle created by the partisan cable news networks and websites over the last 20 years make it impossible to find consensus, as your grassroots will call any compromise a surrender. Hard to see how that doesn’t get worse. If the national crises of war and economic meltdown of the last five years have only served to make the atmosphere more bitter, it’s hard to see how it ever improves.