President Barack Obama (Cropped from an official White House picture by Pete Souza)
One way to interpret the outcome of the US congressional election is to conclude that the Obama presidency has effectively ended. Two years too early. The lame duck is now even lamer duck. That is the only way to interpret it.
In a news conference post-result, President Obama said, "As president, I have a unique responsibility to try and make this town work. So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you."
That is a noble objective but unachievable simply because the Republicans, who now control the two branches of the government that ensure any president’s legislative legacy, have also heard the voters and they have heard a diametrically opposite message. They probably interpret the result as the electorate, at any rate their political base, asking them to make Obama hobble even more to the finish line.
Admittedly, this is a cynical point of view. However, cynical politics is the name of the game in Washington. People forget all the time that elections are a contest of political ideologies. Those who win may fairly think that their ideology has greater currency than the losers even if the numbers are not necessarily so illustrative. To that extent, the Republicans would be justified in buying spanners by the hundreds and preparing to throw them in the legislative works until Obama leaves office on November 8, 2016.Not that I support any of what the Republicans stand for. I am merely pointing out how the politics of electoral democracy works.
There is a tendency to analyze any such election as an expression of astute political judgment by the electorate. I am not one of those who necessarily think that. The electorate is not a repository of the kind of mystifying and mesmerizing intelligence that many attribute to them. Most people just cast their vote on the basis of their rather shallow and often half-baked understanding of what is at play. They even forget why they are voting. Some of the Republican campaign ads, for instance, made it sound like the barbarians of the Islamic State are fast approaching the American shores with barrels of Ebola to be be spilled on its streets. (Comedic and literary exaggeration and conflation). I am sure that would have swung some of the votes toward it.
If I were President Obama, I would treat the results as license to just have a great time for the next two years in the White House and prepare for my life post-presidency. But that is not how politicians think. They always think in terms of legacy and what else they can do to burnish it until such time as they are at the threshold of their office door on the last day.
Here is a cynical idea. President Obama should declare that he is going to use the next two years pushing every single item on the Republican agenda, including the repeal of Obamacare, end all regulations, dismantle the entire tax regime, hand over every aspect of American life to corporate America, make the minimum wage truly minimalist at 25 cents an hour and deport every single illegal alien after making them work at that wage for a while. I guarantee they would not know how to handle that.
Much is being said about how the road ahead is going to be rough for Obama with the Republicans controlling both the houses as if the road so far has been littered with rose petals. As a political strategy for 2016 perhaps the Republicans should focus on making the next two years the most productive so far in terms of legislative reform and enactment. Now that they have achieved their most cherished goal of making President Obama irrelevant, they should concern themselves with the 2016 presidential elections. That is where they will discover that the country is slightly bigger and more diverse than their comfort zone of their own base where castrating hogs is extolled as a high skill.