Monday, October 15, 2012

It's not just about the Presidency

Maybe you've heard: there's an election coming up in the United States in just a few weeks. Sometime after that (and I'm not going to say how soon - I remember the election of 2000!) we'll know whether Barack Obama or Willard "Mitt" Romney will be sworn in for a four-year term in November. (Unless, of course, one of the third-party candidates wins. Hey, it could happen. Maybe.)

The Etch-A-Sketch keeps getting shaken, and a nation of ADD sufferers keeps getting distracted by whatever the last thing was that happened or got said. (Joe Biden smirked and laughed at Paul Ryan through the debate! How disrespectful! Who ever heard of such disrespect at this level of politics?) Ultimately the decision as to who will be President will be made by the people who turn out to vote. That includes Romney supporters, Obama supporters, and the critical block of "undecideds" who, somehow, have not yet decided which candidate they support.

But the Presidential race isn't the only position that's being decided. Ultimately, all three branches of government are.

Congress has been incredibly ineffective in the last four years. Less than ineffective - Republicans in Congress, since Obama first took office, have been putting enormous effort into keeping any significant progress from being made. They fought every step of the way on Health Care Reform, forcing revisions and compromises and a continuous whittling away of the core principles that meant so much to Obama's supporters - and then turned around and rejected the end product, and crowed about how much time Obama had just wasted.

At this time we see a Senate with a slim Democratic majority, and the House with a sizable Republican majority. The election of 2010 saw many "Blue Dog" Democrats, Republican-leaning Democrats from Republican-leaning districts, swept away in favor of Tea Party extremists. It is tempting to blame all of the problems with inaction in Congress back to these Freshmen Republican ideologues from 2010, but as we can see with Health Care Reform, the problem predates the Tea Party successes in 2010.

If Romney wins the Presidency, he may not find himself well-served by Tea Party extremists. Perhaps the plan was for these individuals to harass and bedevil the Democrat in the White House, but I sincerely doubt that they got the memo indicating that they should stop in the event of a Republican moving into the Oval Office. Instead, I suspect, they will continue to demand that they get their way, and will engage in tried-and-true obstructionist actions if they don't.

A Democratic-majority Congress will work better for either candidate. If Obama wins, a Congress dominated by genuine Democrats - not the Blue Dog sorts - would be more cooperative with his goals. But if Romney wins, he might also find it easier to work with Democrats than with extremist Republicans of the Tea Party variety. And Democrats have a well-earned reputation for compromising, for sacrificing party goals in favor of the needs of the nation - something that Republicans will never be accused of, especially after these past four years. Romney might find himself having to fight less to get his agenda through if he is dealing with Democrats instead of Tea Party extremists.

Finally, the Supreme Court is in play. The Supreme Court is in play every Presidential election, but once again we find ourselves in a situation where the moderates on the court are nearing the age of retirement and/or death. Meanwhile, George W. Bush nominated relatively young ideologues like Roberts and Alito to the court and had them rubber-stamped in by his complying Congress - even sweeping Roberts, unexpectedly, into the position of Chief Justice, a position he's likely to hold for decades to come.

A Romney win would allow the makeup of the Supreme court to be shifted so far to the right that it will seem like Citizens United was a Democratic idea. On the other hand, an Obama win, particularly if the makeup of Congress does not change significantly from its current state, would likely mean more moderate appointments like the two he has made - both of whom faced furious opposition from Republicans. (It is, of course, possible that Romney could surprise everyone and make moderate appointments, but this would certainly cost him any support from Tea Party extremists, who would likely try to block any such appointments.)

On Tuesday, November 6, Americans will go to the polls and cast their votes. We need to realize that we are voting for much more than just the President.

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