Small World: Reflections on the Elections

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht
BN Columnist
With the midterm elections a week behind us and the insights of pundits exhausted, it seems the time to pose the big questions: Who really won and who lost?
First and plainly, Obama and his distant cousin Democrats were shellacked. Voters, hostile to Washington, may not have cared much for the candidates they supported, but they cared less for their opponents who wore the Democrat label. Obama dragged them down. True, he faced a massive array of problems, the worst of which he had inherited: Two wars, a fragile financial system and an economy in deep recession.
Struggle though he did, the President helped make his Bush-given burden worse. Rather than concentrate on jobs and small homeowners, he went for grandiose, legacy health care legislation (not that it wasn’t needed, to be sure). Rather than help with mortgages, he helped out the distressed big banks (and bankers). He continued the Bush policy of fuzziness and apparent weakness with Iraq and Afghanistan; he added confusion and contradictions in dealing with troubles in Syria, Egypt and throughout the Arab world. Throw in bad moves in Ukraine and with Russia.
Of course, at every step of the way he was challenged by attacks and blocking moves from the congressional Republicans. But he readily yielded to them — fearful, for example, of confronting Israel or making a nuclear deal with Iran. Domestic politics overrode international imperatives. And, so, after taking the wrong side (in my view, anti-Assad) in Syria and neglecting Iraq, he was shocked by the rise of ISIS, the terrible terrorist group funded by our Gulf “allies.” He took the bait and destroyed Qaddafi’s regime, unintentionally bringing chaos to Libya and parts of North Africa.
Inexperience accounted for much of these self-wrought difficulties; poor choices for staff didn’t help him. They — and private contractors — served him poorly with the clumsy health care startup and the shock of Ebola.
Finally, an ugly fact can’t be denied: racism (silent but persistent) hurt his popularity. It also hurt when his reservoir of support among African-Americans, Hispanics, youth and women dried up. In failing to lead the country, he inevitably lost his following among many of those groups, as well.
Cheer up Democrats! Obama’s reaction to defeat at his post-vote press conference showed him at his best — resilient, determined and of good spirit. The initial Republican response was that of a victor jealous of the spoils from the struggle. Bodes ill, unless there is a change of Republican heart.
The second question, who won? Not the American people, taken as the total population. Instead, the victors were the majority of the one-third of voting age Americans who cast ballots. A pretty small turnout to exercise such massive clout. There’s a civic lesson there for those of you who skipped that class: If you don’t do your duty as a citizen and vote, you will be ruled by those who took the trouble to do so. The consequence is something like rule by an aristocracy of ideology.
Finally, we must face up to the great power that money played. Hundreds of millions of dollars went into the campaign coffers of both sides, but mainly to help the Republican winners. It’s a sad commentary on the quality of our electorate that so many votes can be swayed by slick TV commercials.
The cash that flowed to the winners — and to losers as well — was not, let’s be honest, a charitable or civil-minded gift. That lucre was a down payment on goods being purchased, i.e., future votes and influence beneficial to donors. When the gaming czar, Sheldon Adelman, gave his millions he was buying support for Israel (and his gaming business). Winning candidates who fail to produce the goods shouldn’t expect the stuffed envelopes next time. Pretty plainly, the big winners from the elections were the deep-pocket supporters.
See you on the barricades!
Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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