Wednesday, 29 February 2012

American politics and the gridlock to come


So ex-governor Mitt Romney has managed to squeeze out a primary victory against his more conservative (though scarcely more convincing) Republican opponent Rick Santorum. In the state of Michigan, where his father used to be a much-respected Governor. Where he's spent many millions trying to flatten his rivals. Big deal.

Romney will probably be his party's nominee, of course. But since the betting market currently gives President Obama a 61 per cent chance of being re-elected (partly on the basis of his just-about positive approval ratings and poll leads over Romney), a fat lot of good it will probably do him.

While all that bunfest has been going on, the real (and more historical long-range story) has been the retirement of moderate Republican senator Olympia Snowe (above) from Maine.

This pretty much seals the end of the centrist Republican Party in Congress. Once upon a time, and especially in the 1970s and 1980s, there were lots of them - particularly in the Senate. They stood for good governance, fiscal rectitude, the national interest. Conservative things, perhaps. Don't get the idea that Snowe was some sort of pinko. President Obama courted her for months in the hope she would vote for his healthcare bill. In the end, she didn't. But her ever-smaller bloc usually spoke out for solid, respectable, flexible points of view. Sometimes (avert your eyes, partisans) they voted through things which Democratic presidents or their left-leaning colleagues in the Congress asked them for. Conservative Democrats - another endangered species - often joined hands with them and sponsored joint bills. Now all that's gone. Only a single Republican (rather than Independent) member of the Senate could be called anything like a moderate - Susan Collins, also of Maine, who must now fear for her job too.

In its place is the 50/50 nation that the President once set out his stall against. The Senate might end up split evenly down the middle come November given that Snowe basically just gave the Democrats an extra seat. At the moment, more race analysts would call it a dead heat, though Democrats have more seats to defend in the squeezed middle. Democrats are also getting more and more hopeful that they'll be able to retake the House of Representatives. It's a really tough ask - they'll need about 25 gains - but they're poised to take some Republican seats, so the House might end up pretty evenly balanced too.

The founding fathers of the United States built a constitution that can only work if American politicians work together. If they're going to tear the country down the middle, and then fight over it with everything they've got, the USA is going precisely nowhere. And we'll all be the poorer for that.

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