Pundits have been quick to compare the 1994 midterm elections to the midterms this year: a Democratic President who promoted a wide-reaching agenda is being punished. One problem: this isn’t 1994. It’s worse.
In 1994, Republicans took control of Congress, running under the “Contract with America” banner. This year, Republicans have vowed to block, dismantle and destroy the Obama Agenda. Contrary to 1994, this Democratic president actually realized many of his legislative goals: the economic stimulus, financial reform and, most notably, healthcare reform. These initiatives passed as a result of partisan votes down party lines, a function of united Republican opposition. The Republican scars are still raw, and they do not seem eager to begin compromising should they win control on Nov. 2.
In fact, the Republicans aren’t even running on a platform similar to 1994. They are running with a negative one, of raw opposition to the Obama agenda. The problem with the “Platform of No” is that its foundations are in gridlock. And that is what the Republicans will bring to Congress should they win enough seats to gain control.
Make no mistake: When the dust settles, a cadre of angry, right-wing partisans — which will inevitably include Tea Party activists — will shift both the House and Senate considerably to the right.
These are not moderate politicians. A Senator Toomey and a Senator Angle will produce seismic shifts in the way the Senate conducts business, even if Democrats retain control. If the Democrats survive election night with a majority in the Senate — say, 51 or 52 seats — they will be forced to find eight or nine Republican Senators with whom to compromise. The Senate will be subject to a tyranny of the minority, and a fierce one at that. Finding the votes necessary to pass substantive legislation will be a Herculean task, and I’m not sure it can be done.
The House will likely be subject to full Republican control, where an easier tyranny of the majority prevails. In a recent Politico article, Minority Leader John Boehner vowed to “do everything to kill [the Obama Agenda], stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.” Democrats will be excluded from the legislative process in the House, and a united GOP will be able to block Obama policy initiatives and pass right-wing legislation. They won’t care if the President opposes it, just as long as they do something that implies that they are following through on their campaign promises.
If the President chooses to compromise, he risks he own electoral success in 2012. If the President chooses not to compromise, he will benefit, as getting nothing (or very little) done in the next Congress is better for his electoral chances than passing Republican initiatives. He already has plenty of legislative accomplishments to tout in 2012 and preventing right-wing legislation will play well with his base.
But if the Republican Congress chooses to compromise, they risk their electoral success. It seems unlikely that Tea Party and conservative purists who believe that their country is being taken away and that the United States is devolving into socialism will be receptive to the idea of compromise with the President. If the Republican Congress chooses not to compromise, and instead passes legislation that favors their base, they will keep their focus, energy and pressure on the Presidency.
The repercussions of a Republican House and/or Senate would be gruesome. Little progress will be made in the next two years if they gain control. If you are still an undecided voter, I urge you to consider what siding with the Republicans this Election Day would entail. You may be unhappy with the legislative record of the President, but the alternative will be far more burdensome to Americans — both now and in generations to come. On Tuesday, we need to protect the Obama Agenda, even if it is imperfect. The Democrats have shown their ability to pass substantive legislation. The Republicans have shown their ability to say “no.” Even if you are disappointed or uneasy with the Obama Presidency, the Republican alternative is pure opposition and gridlock. Many of our nation’s most pressing issues cannot wait through another Congress of neglect.
In just four short days, voters will head to the polls. Don’t let someone else make the judgment for you. Say “yes”; Vote Democratic.
Thomas Dec is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.