Monday, November 08, 2010

Here Goes Nothing

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So now the Republican Party has won back control of the U.S. House but failed to win the Senate. Nancy Pelosi has lost her job as speaker, while Harry Reid, who’s almost as hated by the GOP as Pelosi, remains as Senate majority leader.

Networks and pundits are all talking about a “historic shift in power.” The only debate seems to be about whether it’s a “hurricane,” a “tsunami” or an “earthquake” for the Democrats.

I keep reading about how historic a change this is, but I keep getting the nagging feeling that I’ve heard all this before.

In 2006, we had a Republican Congress and a Republican president. The voters said, “That’s not working too well,” and presto! We had a “historic upheaval” resulting in a Republican president and a Democratic Congress.

Two years later, the voters decided, “That’s not working either,” and so we had another “historic power shift” that gave us a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president.

Now, in 2010, people look around at a sluggish economy, with high unemployment, and they’re mad that things still don’t seem to be working.

Here’s the thing: It’s easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to Democrats vs. Republicans, liberals vs. conservatives. I’m guilty of it myself. But when it comes right down to it, the vast majority of people don’t care about that. They want a country that works. And their sole criteria for that is how well they think the economy’s doing. If that’s not working, they don’t care which party’s in power. They just want that party gone.

As a couple of Senate races showed, however, there’s a limit to how far voters will let anger take them.

The defeats of tea party favorites Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware demonstrated that when your one and only criterion for vetting a nominee is “she’s not a professional politician,” you’re going to get some amateurs who’ll flail around and blow what should have been easy GOP pickups.

Voters took a good look at the seriously loopy O’Donnell and the far-right extremist Angle (who warned that people might resort to “Second Amendment remedies” if her side didn’t win) and said, “You know what? We’re not that angry yet.”

So what’s likely to be happening in the U.S. Congress for the next two years? My prediction: a whole lot of nothing.

The Republicans don’t really have an agenda, other than “stopping Obama.” Oh, they talk a good game about cutting spending, taxes and the deficit.  But they’re always maddeningly evasive on which spending they’re going to cut. Medicare? Social Security? Defense? Those are the biggies, but good luck with that.

When anyone in the lazy media actually presses for an answer (a rare occurrence), they fall back to the same vague bogeymen they’ve been using for years: “waste” and “pork” (now known as “earmarks”).

But they don’t really get specific on those either, since what “pork” really means to a congressman is “spending money in someone else’s district.” Cut taxes without cutting spending, and up goes the deficit.

 House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, in line for the majority leader position, claims that the first thing the Republicans are going to try to do is “repeal Obamacare,” but it’s going to take more than a House vote to undo the recently passed Affordable Care Act.

They don’t have the votes in the Senate — which, as we’ve seen, is the place where legislation goes to die. There certainly aren’t enough votes anywhere to override the inevitable presidential veto. And as it turns out, people actually like some of the provisions that have taken effect, such as the one that says you can’t be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

Oh, and while you’re at it, Mr. Cantor, good luck on getting any compromises or bipartisanship. Not only did your party run on demonizing Democrats, but the only Democrats that the GOP could hope to sway were the ones in normally Republican districts, who might have seen some political benefit to making deals. Now they’re gone.

On your own right flank, you’ve got your newly minted tea party “allies,” some of whom have sworn to shut down the entire government rather than compromise. That’ll make you real popular when Grandma can’t get her Social Security check because you and Speaker Boehner can’t get a budget passed.

 And so we head toward another “historic upheaval” in two years, when the voters decide that this isn’t working too well, either.

So how’s that “change” thing looking now?