As Republicans gloat and Democrats lick their wounds in the aftermath of yesterday’s midterm elections, and the 2016 presidential campaign kicks off in earnest, what is clear to this observer is that good governance is being sacrificed to partisan marginalization. The polarization of American politics is at a crisis stage and I believe only institutional reform of the legislative branch or a constitutional crisis of Watergate proportion is capable of saving this tattered democracy.
I am not bemoaning the new Republican majority. The voters spoke and their votes, save evidence of vote tampering, are to be respected. It’s how we arrived at this GOP advantage that is not only troubling but in my estimation signals a dangerous development in our nation. Good governance is nearly impossible as partisan advantage has become the end all in our nation’s capital. And no amount of rhetoric of working with ‘both sides of the aisle’ can overcome the degree to which the process itself is so corrupted that public policy is now undermined.
It is a crisis of the making of both major political parties. Democrats run on the rhetoric of change and then govern from the margins, more concerned with holding onto power than exercising it. Republicans exploit and marginalize the already marginalized to gain power and then govern with extreme intentions and marginal effectiveness. Both parties fall prey to the lowest common denominator – money – and accept as collateral damage the crushed hopes of tens of millions of average, hard-working Americans who simply want some degree of quality of life for their hard labor. Making matters worse is a media infrastructure that serves as an echo chamber for the partisan rhetoric that strangles our nation’s capital and is complicit in the dumbing down of the electorate.
However, as all politics is local you have to look at what is occurring in states to really understand how we have arrived at this paralysis. It is the battle for state legislatures that has defined the polarization we see in Congress and the White House. Partisanship has become so deeply embedded at the state level that it bleeds into congressional redistricting and takes root under the Capitol dome. There is no leadership, no principled guidance as elected officials in states are solely angling for partisan advantage and electoral success. Governance defies common sense and betrays the public trust. We can’t get better results because the process to democratic representation is now defined by purely selfish ends; election is the ultimate victory, not the strengthening of our nation. And both parties are to blame.
No one should be surprised at yesterday’s outcome. It did not take a gaggle of well coifed talking heads to predict the Republican majority. It was evident for some time. Sure, there were a few races on the margins but for weeks now it was clear Democrats would lose control of Congress. The GOP did a good job of defining the opposition and Democrats did a great job of living up to how they were defined. Rather than stand on principle, Democrats cowered, denied their support of the President, and ran as marginal candidates fearful of their own shadow. It has become a hallmark of the Democratic Party – embracing the seemingly safe but unintelligible ‘middle’ rather than being a strong voice for the core of its constituency – Blacks, Latinos, women, labor and the working poor. Even when they experience success electorally, Democrats use the middle as a security blanket and in the process betray their constituents while Republicans push from the center to the outer extremes to define the issues of the day and emasculate the opposition.
With Republicans now at the leadership of both the House and Senate, and controlling the committees of each, the tenure of President Barack Obama is truly in its sunset. While the checks and balances of our democratic system might prevent a Republican policy stampede, the gridlock of split government will certainly crush any hope that meaningful policy that will aid the civil and economic fortunes of Black Americans will see the light of day. What’s even more disconcerting is that the judicial appointment process will be fraught with concessions by the President as Republicans control the Senate Judiciary Committee and seek to impose their will on the federal judiciary.
I hold little hope for better governance or stewardship of this nation until we reform the manner in which we elect members to Congress; including public financing of campaigns, extending terms of office to 4 years to avoid the endless cycle of fundraising and creating a nonpartisan framework for congressional redistricting. The only other recourse is a crisis the magnitude of Watergate where the nation is forced to reconsider how it conducts its political business. For now, expect a very bumpy ride to November 2016.