Friday, November 5, 2010

Postlude to the Elections

I’m as interested in politics as most of the people I know because the results of the struggles for political control of our society, after all, directly affect our lives as individuals and as members of a society. Having said that, I’m not what one might call an ‘activist.’ Unlike many of my colleagues (in the rabbinate and in Christian ministry) I try to avoid making politics a part of my pulpit persona. Believe me, on the rare occasion when I transgress his principle I usually hear about it from someone in the congregation. But here, on my weblog, I feel freer to address subjects one might call ‘political.’ Although I do not aspire to be a pundit or a political analyst, I am particularly interested in the nexus of politics and values as I’ve expressed her a number of times.

So, what is my take on the mid-term elections of this week? What is the lesson from the (some would say, spectacular) gains the Republicans made in the US House of Representatives, as well as many governorships and state legislatures across the country? How about the Republicans’ failing to make significant gains in the US Senate? Again, I’m not a skilled political analyst, but here goes…

President Obama, in his press conference on Wednesday, explained the ‘shellacking’ (his word) that his party took by acknowledging that the economy hasn’t yet rebounded significantly enough since his election to improve people’s lives; the people took out their frustration on the ruling party. Of course there’s truth to that, but if the President really thinks that’s the only reason for the turn of events then he’s sadly mistaken.

The American people are largely frustrated by the way that government has been operating in the last two years. While President Obama has lived up to a number of his campaign promises (but not all) with regard to policy agenda, he has completely ignored his promises as to how his government would operate.

The openness and accountability that Obama promised, never materialized. Much of the electorate has watched the way that Obama’s White House and the congress controlled by his party (but particularly, the House of Representatives) has operated and been dismayed. Even many of those who agreed with a particular part of the legislative agenda (say, the health care reform initiative) were shocked by the tactics used to pass it, and by the lack of openness in revealing the contents of the legislation. Very emblematic of what was wrong with the process was Speaker of the House Pelosi’s declaration (concerning the health care bill), “We have to pass the bill, so you can find out what’s in it.” Most of the folks I know, wondered if Speaker Pelosi even knew what was in it. And then there was the President’s declaration (offered when concerns were raised over the congress’ intent to use ‘reconciliation’ to pass the health bill) that “the American people aren’t interested in process, only in results.” I have to say that I cared about the process, and most people I know expressed similar concern.

So we’re frustrated over the stubbornness of the economy, but that’s not all. Voters expressed their frustration by voting to significantly change the balance of power in the House. But why not the Senate?

Again, I’m not the über-pundit, but it seems that the Republican candidates who failed to unseat Democrats in the races so many were watching carefully (e.g., Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada) did not engender trust in the voters. They were seen as too extreme, too inexperienced, or too flaky. Perhaps the electorate simply voted on the principle ‘better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know.’

Perhaps, the mixed result of the election, points to the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the American voter; even when frustrated and wanting to send a clear message to those in power, they were not about to vote for those they considered unqualified. That’s the message I got, anyway. It gives me cause for optimism about the future of our country.