The Mid-Term Elections in the United States: At the Crossroads or the Beginning of a Revolution? Views from an Expatriate

Author’s note: This belated entry was due to non-blog related commitments plus I wanted to look at  the elections from multiple perspectives before I decided to chime in, with the goal of keeping to my policy of neutrality with this topic. This includes not voting in the mid-term elections as it would not make much of a difference in the current US policies both domestically and abroad.

Which way will Americans go, as indicated by this sign near Sünderup (near Flensburg). Photo taken in May 2010

"Which way will Americans go?"; as indicated by this sign near Sünderup (near Flensburg). Photo taken in May 2010

Well, it’s finally over. The election signs lining up along the streets of the residential districts have been taken down and put away. There are no more people going door-to-door to get the neighbors to vote for one party or the other. The cannons used to fire mud and soot at the candidates have been decomissioned. And most importantly, the people have spoken. The second of November, 2010 will go down in the history as the year of change- change in the political landscape as the era of the Democrats and in particular, the Kennedys have come to an end in place of full Republican dominance of the House of Representatives, the neutralization of the Democrats in the Senate, and the era of the Bush and Palin Dynasties arising over the dome of the Capitol, like the rising sun. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and the people at Fox News, who have all been in hiding since the elections of 2008, which brought President Barack Obama into power and resulted in the dominance of the Democrats on Capitol Hill, have now used the political flaws of the Obama administration and exploited the president’s youth and inexperience to influence the voters to “roll back America” and make his life virtually a living hell for the next 2 years. Using the old philosophy of too much governance, a socialist-controlled health care system, the unnecessary need for high-speed rail and most importantly, high unemployment, the people have said “no!” to change in their pockets and voted for change on the political scene.  From a point of view of the American who has resided here in Germany since 1999, this ring is all too familiar, as we had an episode happen in the German elections last year.

There, the Social Democrats (SPD) were ousted in a brutal way, as the voters voted for “The Dream Coalition”, consisting of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP). But this was despite the fact that this was the same SPD that considered Helmut Kohl of the CDU too old to govern the country and voted him out in 1998 in favor of Gerhardt Schröder and the coalition with the Green Party, only to find that they got the shaft in 2005 through the emergency elections that brought Angela Merkel to power and created the dysfunctional Grand Coalition, consisting of the SPD and CDU. This coalition was replaced in 2009 with the Dream Coalition that kept Ms. Merkel in power and brought FDP Chairman Guido Westerwelle into the limelight, both at the expense of the SPD.  In both cases, the voters did not need the radical talk show hosts, like Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow to show their displeasure of the SPD and found ways to bring the CDU back into power in its entirety, which has since then enjoyed the fruits of prosperity as the unemployment is low, the country is experiencing the highest growth in the gross domestic product in the world, and there is a sense of economic stability in the Bundesrepublik.

Whether this change of power in the US will help avert another round of recession and follow the success of the Germans remains questionable. But the results of the mid-term elections has led me to asking this one simple question, and that is “Why?”  To answer that, I will look at the results from the view points of the Republicans and the Democrats before I proceed to interpret the implications of the mid-term elections. These are based on the discussions I’ve had with friends and family members from both sides of the big pond, as I try and make sense out of the whole deal. Let us start with the Republicans as they have been highly demanding the need for change:

REPUBLICANS’ ARGUMENTS

There are many reasons why many people voted for the conservatives this time around. Many of the reasons that I’ve read and heard about can be bundled up into three main categories: The strive to keep the American Dream alive, The strive to put a cap on governmental spending, and finally most importantly, the strive for jobs but definitely not in areas that will not be beneficial in the long term. The first argument requires a brief explanation for those wanting to know what the American Dream means from an expat’s point of view. The American Dream stresses the importance of independence- the development of onesself and his own successes, while at the same time, have a family, house, career, and own car at an early age (say 25 years). It is what my late grandmother used to say: “Every man for himself.” And one must not forget the obligation to go to church on Sundays to pray and socialize.  The problem with the American Dream is the fact that it is dying, from a conservative’s point of view, for reasons that there are not enough jobs to go around, there are too many regulations that restrict the activities of Americans, and that the government has been spending too much money on projects they claim are not needed and less money on the necessities. This includes spending too much on the health care system which many perceive to be functioning well and on high speed rail which many don’t want in the first place.  The American Dream can only survive when there is less governmental involvement and more freedom to be independent, innovative, and successful.  The second category definitely deals with too much money spent on projects that are not necessary. This includes the investment in renewable energy, high speed rail, and rehabilitating the health care. Renewable energy is understandable, but high speed rail to accomodate a handful of people is considered a waste, and health care, according to many, is a complex system which requires some incremental fixes, but not an overhaul to make it look like a European system. And last but not least, jobs. Many have touted the success of their own businesses and the ability to hire new people. Others are frustrated that there are no jobs to go around because they claim that either the immigrants have taken them or many companies have either outsourced their facilities or have relocated out of country. Many have pointed their fingers at Obama for allowing the unemployment to increase to 10% (although that argument is questionable). Others have taken job losses well and treated it like it was normal. In either case, many claim that with the Republicans in power, there is a potential for the economy to take off right away, like it was the case with the administration of Bill Clinton when the Republicans took control of  the entire Congress in 1994. To sum it up, many wanted the Republicans to come to power because they wanted the US to be the US and not like anybody else. That means as Ronald Reagan put it, the government is evil and should be tamed by the private sectors and the American people, which is the secret recipe of keeping the American Dream alive.

DEMOCRATS’ ARGUMENTS

The arguments of the liberal voters, on the other hand, represent a global awareness of issues affecting the US and the rest of the world. This includes global warming which in comparison with the conservatives, is a real issue that needs to be addressed post haste in order to ensure that the next generation would have the same quality of life as this generation. Henceforth many have embraced renewable energy technology, which would bring in jobs, and high-speed rails, which would relieve traffic congestion and pollution. Furthermore, many have seen the flaws of the health care system, which still exists even after the bill to overhaul it was passed. And lastly, many have seen the American Dream disappear forever, as the entire system is broke, thanks to the wrecklessness of the Bush administration, allowing for deregulation and free-wheeling politics in the hands of the big corporations, a trend similar to the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression that followed in the 30s. The reemergence of the Republicans in Congress through the mid-term elections was a big slap in the face as many see the problems President Obama has inherited as something that cannot be fixed overnight, nor within the first four years of office. More disappointing to the liberals is the fact that they see the US as going backwards into time and not moving forward, like the Europeans and Chinese. Hence the country is lagging far behind in the advancement of technology. Some have given up hope and are looking for an opportunity to flee the country, a place where they claim have way too many conservatives who are narrow-minded and ignorant of what is going on around them.

THE AUTHOR’S ARGUMENT

I recently read an article in “Der Spiegel” magazine about the crumbling American Dream and how the mid-term elections have been based on hatred because of all of the problems Americans are facing; including unemployment, homelessness, and an economy that is struggling to create at least a handful of jobs. The author of the piece claimed that all of this was the result of years of neglect of the real issues that are going on and too much focus on the American Dream and ways to keep it alive, even on credit. From my personal point of view, if there was an American Dream, for some reason it is at the crossroads in terms of its own future. The mid-term elections is like a revolution that is in the making. We’ve seen a lot of revolutions that have been carried out because of the need of change in authority and structure. The 1848 revolution brought down oligachy in many places in Europe (minus the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires) and brought social changes to improve the well-being of the continent’s inhabitants. The revolution of 1917 introduced communism in Russia, which spread throughout Europe and triggered counter-revolutions in the 1930s in France and Spain, 1953 in East Germany, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Prague (former Czechoslovakia), and 1980 in Poland. The revolution of 1969 in the US was two-fold as demonstrators not only challenged the rule of authority of the older generations but also balked at the Vietnam War.

If the mid-term elections did serve as the modern version of 1969, then a revolution was long overdue. The country is divided up like never before, with the rich getting richer, poor getting poorer, extremists becoming more extreme and fundamentalists becoming more fundamental. We are seeing people taking sides in ways that was never dreamt of 20 years ago. The conservatives are carrying Sarah Palin’s book “Going Rogue” like the Bible, while trying to teach others to be “non-socialists”.  Liberals are trying to knock some sense into these people with well-known facts about the real issues, while keeping themselves informed on these issues through CNN, Minnesota Public Radio, and the BBC to help justify their arguments. Never before have I seen the barriers being built up between these two sides and strengthened and armed for any attack. These differences have torn families and friends apart and are eating away at the fabric of the Constitution, which was created to establish democracy and protect the rights of the people. While the need to put aside the differences has been stressed and the President- facing even greater odds- is ready to compromise with the Republicans, it is impossible for Americans to come together and work on the issues that have been plaguing the country since George W. Bush took office in 2001. In fact, the differences will intensify, sparking a revolution between the conservatives and the liberals, the most dedicated Christians and the non-Christians, the rich and the poor, the Minorities and the Caucasians, which will reshape the way the United States looks like as a whole and will alter the American way of life forever.  The only solution to this deep division is to do what the author of “Der Spiegel” article suggested in the end: “Be inventive and look for ways to succeed.” In this case, we need to find innovative ways to return to civilization, tear these walls down, open the gates, and look at reality from a neutral perspective. Once we all know what is wrong with today’s picture, we can take our course of action and find ways of solving the problems we are facing today, which is as big as Mt. Everest. But no problem is too big to handle, and we will thank ourselves once we determine which direction we will take and what measures we can use to make America what it is- for us and for our children and grandchildren.

It’s just a matter of starting right now…….


Link to article (in German): http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/index-2010-44.html

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