November 25, 2012

Elections Need to Have Consequences

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I’m going to start this column, my last for 2012, with a bold assertion. Here goes: You do not care as much about politics as you did three weeks ago.The election is over, and with it goes the electoral sport. No longer can we so easily take sides and engage in the political process by gathering around the TV to watch debates or conventions. For the next four years we know who our president will be. For many of us that means we know who won and who lost, and now it’s time for politicians to sort it all out.For the next few years it will be exceedingly difficult to motivate people to have more than a passing interest in politics, and there is nothing wrong with that. We have busy lives, and the time commitment that comes from diving deep into legislative debates is something better left for oddball overly political-types (see: me).If that is the case, which I truly believe it is, then it’s time for the lawmakers in Washington to rethink what their legislative strategy needs to be for this term. Instead of focusing on process, they need to focus on results.Look at what helped the President win this past election, besides the much-lauded shifting demographics, the auto-bailout.A few months before the election, I was driving out of Ohio and I passed the Lordstown GM plant. I had never seen such a massive facility and plastered against the side of it was a massive poster; it read “Lordstown. Home of the Cruze.” Featured next to the lettering was a scarlet-red Chevy Cruze, a car whose existence is largely owed to the bailout. Now, we could debate the politics of the bailout, whether Mitt Romney was for or against it (both?), until the cows come home. What cannot be debated is that the President got credit for the bailout and reaped the electoral rewards in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Or take the example of Obamacare, an issue that motivated both candidates, but is no longer an electoral detriment to Democrats. Only 33 percent of voters want to see Obamacare repealed, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Voters no longer remember how Obamacare came to be, but they have become accustomed to the idea of it and are now in favor of its implementation.Then look at the stimulus. At the time it was passed, many economists, including Christina Romer, who was President Obama’s first Chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisors, warned the President that his proposed stimulus wouldn’t be enough spending to get us out of the depths of the recession. Paul Krugman was even featured on the cover of Newsweek with the headline “Obama is Wrong.” The argument those economists were making was twofold. The first argument was that there was not enough spending. That argument could simply be addressed down the road by spending more, no? That’s where the second branch of the argument came in: that President Obama would not have the political support necessary to pass a second stimulus if the first one looked like it was going to fail.Those objectors ended up hitting the nail right on the head. The Obama administration didn’t do enough with the initial stimulus and had to endure two elections where the economy worked against them. One could argue that a Republican Party that truly cared about correcting the nation’s economic footing would have been willing to work with President Obama on a second stimulus, but none was forthcoming.As Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate Republicans, said after the 2010 midterm elections, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” If that’s your goal, then you are going to do everything to make sure the economy is as poor as possible, knowing that presidents are rarely re-elected when the economy is poor.McConnell had the right tactic, the President was unable to point to any legislative accomplishments after the midterms. The President was lucky to be reelected, but he cannot afford to forget what worked for him. It was not compromising, it was not bipartisanship, it was successful programs and policies passed under his watch.That does not mean we need to cast off bipartisanship or compromise, but they are a means to a legislative end, and if they do not lead to positive results than they need not be pursued. That’s why when the next Congress meets, there is no more important thing for Democrats to pursue than filibuster reform. As it stands, almost any action in the Senate requires a 60-vote majority to pass. This means that compromise is required for the Senate to work, yet the past four years have shown us that compromise is no longer forthcoming.If parties can win solid majorities and yet are unable to pass legislation through the Senate what’s the point of an election? That’s why it is so encouraging to see Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate pursuing reforms that would require Senators to actually hold the floor for the length of their filibuster. Filibusters will still exist, but they will be significantly harder to pursue.Republicans will cry tyranny, they will argue that this rule change subverts democracy, even though the filibuster has only been around for about a century and has never been used as much as it currently is.This means liberals need to accept that, when we are in the minority, we too need to respect the desire of the people and allow the majority to pass legislation. Remember when those Wisconsin state senators fled their state in order to prevent an anti-union bill from passing? Those legislators were loudly, but wrongly, praised on the left, in much the same way that Republican Senators who filibustered Obamacare were praised on the right. This needs to end.So, while the public tunes out of politics for awhile, President Obama’s party needs to ask itself, What will voters care about in two and four years’ time? Results.

Noah Karr-Kaitin is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at nkarrkaitin@cornellsun.com. Plain Hokum appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin