The recent midterm elections have been a hard reversal for Obama and the Democratic Party. That is the media narrative and it is correct. While correct it is far from being the whole story. The current political climate in the United States is very volatile and the election was a very clear message sent by the voters. The voters were not just rejecting Obama and the Democratic Party's lackluster performance. They cast a vote of no confidence on the federal government and business as usual in DC.
Going into the election Obama and the Democrats were down in the polls across the board. Just as misery loves company the majority party was not alone in their lack of support. Congressional Republicans are in surprisingly enough a worse position in the polls in spite of their victories on November 2nd. A recent Rasmussen poll found 59% of all Americans believe that the new GOP Congress will disappoint them by 2012. This isn't a liberal front group of some kind saying this. Rasmussen is a polling group that has worked with the Republican Party and Fox News for decades. Congressional job approval is at record-setting lows casting the approval ratings of both parties into a harsher light. With voter turnout at 42% coming on the heels of the record-breaking turnout of the 2008 elections the majority cast their vote of not worth the effort. When you take a step back from the manufactured message it becomes clear that people no longer believe government or the political parties in Washington genuinely represent or care about their interests.
This lack of faith in federal government is not surprising. The past decade has been a serious rollercoaster regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum starting with 9/11 and ending with the financial market crash. During the first decade of the millennium partisan conflict became a much larger part of the business of government on both sides of the aisle. With the mediocre efforts of the Democrats providing little relief and Republican policies having been responsible for the crash in the first place the disapproval of both parties by the public is completely justified.
The circumstances that created the Tea Party and energized the Republican Party have their own consequences. Promises of investigations, confrontations on spending and the debt ceiling, and opposition to Obama could quickly backfire. As much as the Tea Party rails against government spending that same spending in R&D, the military, law enforcement, infrastructure, and basic bureaucracy leads to a lot of paychecks. If there was a serious disruption in the ability to pay these workers that would take more money out of an already fragile economy. The debt ceiling is an equally thorny issue; if the US were to fail to raise it and defaulted on our debt that would be an economic catastrophe. As the primary season and the defeat of Sharon Angle and Christine O'Donnell has shown the Tea Party is willing to go after Republicans who fall short on their expectations even if that means losing the seat in the general election. This is likely to encourage confrontation instead of negotiation leading to gridlock and continued federal impotence.
Ironically enough this federal gridlock will make it much easier for state and local elected officials to stand out if their methods are successful. With the federal government in all likelihood bogged down in partisan bickering lower levels of government will need to take on greater burdens and come up with new solutions to their problems. By necessity, and thanks to increasing access to information given by the Internet, the political center of gravity is going to shift away from Washington and to state and local governments. This is not to say some kind of new civil war is brewing on the horizon. More than anything else people are trying to get by and will take any port in a storm.
So what does this mean for our community? All in all its going to be pretty messy regardless of your political persuasion. An extended recession, one that might get worse, is going to be hard on our community. More than ever we need to turn to each other with open arms and leave petty partisan bickering to the professionals in Washington. We need to work together, find ways to help each other, and do what is best for our communities. Our shared spirituality and experiences are far greater ties that bind than any letter next to a candidate's name can cut. Times like these are ones where we need any who can do their part to step up and work together regardless of who they voted for. The road is rough ahead but as long as we stand together we'll be ok.
Also published at