William Brian Holt (USA, AC 09-11)
In 2008, the Democrats were in control of both houses of Congress in the United States of America, and won the White House with what seemed a veritable mandate from voters across the country. It seems to be a common refrain in U.S. history: Economic crash followed by a sharp return of the majority to Big Government liberalism. Two years later, however, a considerable number of Americans are royally pissed off at the direction our country has taken under President Barack Obama and the Democratic congressmen they voted into office. Not only is the Democratic establishment the enemy, but government itself is now the enemy. Many Republicans–spurned on by fringe groups such as the Tea Party which have dismayingly moved into the mainstream–have taken Ronald Reagan’s words at his first Inaugural Address as literal policy: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”
Since Obama’s ascension to the White House two years ago, we Americans have seen the greatest number of progressive acts of legislation passed through Congress under a single president in decades, sweeping health care and financial reforms being just two of them. While many Americans opposed the Wall Street and G.M. bailouts on general principle, adamantly defending the limits of government intervention, these measures have proved as effective as anyone could have hoped, halting a complete financial catastrophe and saving our auto industry from total ruin. For those who say that Obama is turning our country into a socialist welfare state: He is not destroying capitalism; he is saving it.
Still, most people could not care less about what the President has done for Big Business, using anything in the news as an excuse to call for his impeachment. Home foreclosures and layoffs are the real concerns at play here, and as in any economic downturn, job growth is one of the last and most elusive signs of recovery. We thought that Obama would solve our woes overnight. Running on a motto of Change, he encouraged us to believe that all things were possible, and we pinned our hopes to him accordingly. That was our mistake. We wanted Superman and got a realist.
In disappointment, our expectations quickly fell back into despair, and that despair turned into anger. I freely admit that our hopes were unrealistic. Obama has not let us down, but rather, we have let ourselves down. As a nation we have become nervous, panicked and spasmodic in our opinions and voting patterns. We spend time worrying about our nation’s place in the world while it would be spent far better focusing our attentions towards home. Two years after Barack Obama was elected to the White House, we are more divided, more polarized, more partisan than we have been in years.
The midterm elections were largely about this fundamental schism in the American identity. The elections were a battle between two competing visions of what the United States should be and how our government should work. Fortunately, the Tea Party and other antigovernment extremists did not have the success that many had predicted for them, and with just as much luck, there seems to have been enough of a shakeup in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to sharply alter our political discourse for the next few years. Many speak of gridlock, and perhaps that is what we are doomed to. I choose to believe, however, that we are moving forwards however incrementally. We did not see a rejection of Democratic incumbents like Senator Harry Reid and Representative Barney Frank, nor did we witness a mandate for Tea Party extremists such as Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle. Instead we’ve struck upon an interesting balance in our Congress, one between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate. Yes, those fears of gridlock are well founded, but one should always be optimistic.
As these elections served only to confuse the experts, no predictions can be made about the 2012 elections. If we do not see a drastic turnaround in our economy within the next two years, the only certainty is that President Obama will be running against the odds in his campaign for reelection. It’s not too early to worry. Most of us started panicking years ago.
-United World Colleges Student Magazine-