The Election of Discontent

The Election of Discontent

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The American people gave President Obama a serious slap in the face yesterday as they voted consistent with all the anti-Obama polling which has been growing throughout the country over the past year or more. As his approval ratings continued to wallow at the 40% or below, it was totally predictable that voters would reject his party and his supporters. There is a very serious unknown question which some of the exit polling may well answer, not that they rejected Obama but for what were they indeed voting.

It would seem that there are two major challenges facing both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in the next two years. Can President Obama lead the nation and the Congress? Will the victorious Republican Party demonstrate a willingness and an ability to dig into the trenches to develop reasonable policy options and alternatives so that it can demonstrate to the American people that the GOP is not the party of “NO”. Members of Congress know that while the American people hold the President in very low esteem, they hold Congressat an even lower estimation. 

It would appear that all the grand gestures which have emerged already since yesterday evening—Obama inviting the leadership to the White House to meet with him on Friday to discuss the forthcoming agenda and Senator Mitch McConnell appearing to be extremely conciliatory and forthcoming in his victory address last night—will be tested in the weeks and months ahead. Given the weakness of the President’s leadership over the past six years and McConnell’s explicit obstructionist past tactics, there is no reason to assume that there will a dramatic mood and behavioral change in Washington.

There are two stimuli which might change the atmospherics. First, the Republicans now smell the possibility that they might be able to translate their current success into capturing the White House in 2016. As they will not be running directly against Obama and his record in that the next election, it would behoove them to be able to demonstrate to the American people that they—unlike President Obama–can get things done in Washington. In addition, McConnell and House Speaker Boehner will be challenged to get the entire GOP on the same page ideologically and not permit the right wing extremists to lead it. This will be no small task, but could indicate much about their ability to the lead.

Second, in the White House, President Obama can continue to try to govern by fiat or executive order, but his party will not be well served as it endeavors to hold the White House in 2016 and retake the Senate as well.  Obama will also be governing for the history books. To date he has capturing Bin Laden, Obamacare, and being the first African American President as his resume. To expand the Obama chapter will require him to successfully lead a much more fractious and complex political situation than before. It is a much more challenging picture for him now than it was in his first two years when he had all the wind in his sails.

The mantra for both sides will be as is always mentioned after elections; winning elections is comparatively easy when compared with the challenge of governing.

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