The big Republican victory shows a big political setback for Barack Obama’s administration, rather than the strength of the Republicans. The White House was expecting the “backlash” from the population, that is suffering the consequences of the biggest economic crisis since the 1930 recession. The Republicans now have a majority in the US House of Representatives, that was controlled by the Democrats from the 2006 mid-term elections, after 12 years of a Republican majority. In spite of not having reached their aim of also controlling the US Senate, these elections leave a more conservative US Congress for the second half of Obama’s term.
The day after
Although many mid-term elections usually change the political sign of the Congress to that of the opposition party, many people think that the White House and Obama himself should regard this election as a warning about the people’s state of mind. Less than two years after Obama’s victory in 2008, his policy in view of the worst economic crisis and unemployment that cannot be lowered from the official 10% have quickly eroded the President’s political capital.
Although up to the final moment Obama called for voting against “the policies that caused the crisis,” a large portion of the population (51%, according to a New York Times survey before the election) does not support the administration’s policy and thinks that the government did not know how to manage the crisis.
The scandalous, multi-billion-dollar Wall Street bailout provoked anger and disappointment among broad groups — even those that had voted for Obama. Millions have lost their jobs and their homes, while the government was saving big businesses like General Motors, that, in exchange, imposed worse working conditions and wages on its workers and those of the rest of the automakers (with the invaluable assistance of the UAW bureaucracy).
With an uncertain economic outlook for working-class and popular majorities, which owe lots of money, the most reactionary groups of the Republican right wing began to revive the worst threats; they aimed at social spending as the culprit for the deficit and blamed unemployment on the most battered group in the working class: undocumented male and female immigrants. Thus they mixed the
conservative cocktail that now finds expression in the Tea Party, which ended up being one the main actors in the most recent elections.
A Democratic Party defeat, rather than a Republican victory
Although the Republican victory was clearly nurtured by the Tea Party,
which represented anger against the government, the arrival of this
ultra-conservative movement does not predict tranquility for the Republicans.
The electoral contest was marked by disillusionment with Washington and with the political elite, which includes both Democrats and Republicans. Even influential daily papers like The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) saw it that way. The WSJ warned against excessive celebration by the Republicans: ” … it is a repudiation of the political elite of both parties that has lost contact with the people it should supposedly serve. According to our survey, 51% now see the Democrats as the party of ‘big government’ [public spending], and almost the same number see the Republicans as the party of big business. That leaves no party that represents Americans” (November 1, 2010). Thus bourgeois analysts warn about the dissatisfaction of millions who have now voted for the Republicans with a clear message of “voting to punish” the Democrats and not as support for the Republican program. Beyond this “punishment vote,” the two-party
system itself has been called into question.
Tea Party today, primaries tomorrow
This is what partially explains the big support for many candidates from the Tea Party, that hoisted the “anti-establishment” flag, although with a reactionary content. Many votes for Tea Party candidates expressed anger against Washington, although they also show a conservative turn, with the background of the decline of the imperialist power of the United States, that is going through
one of the worst economic crises since 1930. The emergence of the Tea Party is consistent with this crisis of imperialist hegemony, and it is taking place as a kind of right-wing “flip side” of the expectations of a reformist solution from Obama, expectations that propelled the 2008 Democratic campaign.
The arrival of the Tea Party in the Republican ranks shows, above all, the demand of a group in the party to go further to the right, against the more “moderate” wing. For that reason, the victory of Tea Party candidates like Marco Rubio (US Senator, Florida) or Rand Paul (US Senator, Kentucky), is a prediction of internal collisions. These frictions already appeared before the elections, between those who supported the growth of the Tea Party and those who, on the contrary, saw that this wager could turn out to be too costly for the Republican establishment. One sign was the Delaware Republican primary, where the unknown Christine O’Donnell (backed by Sarah Palin) beat the “moderate” Michael Castle (supported by the Republican establishment) and ended up sacrificing the possibility of winning a seat in the US Senate.
Christine O’Donnell’s candidacy and failure somewhat illustrate the paradox that the Tea Party represents for the Republicans. On one hand, it meant a boost for the campaign from the right. It organized and channeled the anger, as was seen in the massive march in Washington; but, on the other hand, it is located much further to the right than the average American. Although it includes many conservative “causes,” like opposition to same-sex marriage, or to the right to have an abortion, and the fight to defend “American values” against the immigrants, many people do not share the Tea Party’s eclectic conservative program. This movement, lacking clear structure and official leadership, adds segregationists, isolationists, xenophobes, Christian fundamentalists, and those who, like Christine O’Donnell, are opposed to masturbation, as well as other right-wing groups and organizations.
[To be continued]