Moving to the Right: The US Midterm Elections

by Binoy Kampmark Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: 19.10.2010

The United States is proving very busy in the lead up to the mid-term elections on November 2. In addition to the battles for the House of Representatives and Senate, roughly forty states will be electing governors. The Republicans are in prime position in such states as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. Colorado shows a 'virtual tie' between Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and the Republican Ken Buck.

The right wing of politics is coming back into vogue, moving into view as the mid-term elections approach. The health of the economy has stuttered. Growth is slow. Economic stimulus, once deemed the necessary policy, is now regarded as intrusive and wasteful. The situation was not helped by such star gazing predictions as those of the former chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers Christina Romer, who claimed that the package would keep unemployment below 8 percent. The result is that the Democrats are shuffling nervously, fearing an impending conservative avalanche. The response by many has been to identify more closely with their Republican opponents, be it in spirit or substance.

Campaigning scenes, mixtures of farce and comedy, are proliferating. Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware was left reeling by the Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell, sucker punched into deflecting allegations that he was a 'beared Marxist' in the flush of his youth. Right wing shock jocks have further softened him up. His response had a certain Clinton-like tone to it, denying any intimacy with an ideology patently in opposition to his own beliefs. 'I am not now, nor have I ever been a Marxist or an enemy of the people of the United States.'

Humour is in scant supply in this election campaign, and Coons was left aghast at this rally against his days as a student. Instead of calling himself a 'market Leninist' to outmanoeuvre his opponent, he chose the pathway of conservative valour. 'I believe strongly in the free enterprise system and have worked hard for eight years in one of Delaware's most innovative, private sector manufacturing firms and have a good and strong working relationship with the private sector as county executive' (Politico, Sep 22).

Another conservative extravaganza is unfolding in Nevada, where the incumbent, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has been trading blows with his Republican rival Sharron Angle. The Democrat-Republican distinctions have blurred, with various figures in the Nevada GOP coming out in favour of Reid over Angle. Nevada State Sen. Bill Raggio has thrown his weight behind the Democrat. Reid has also been careful to praise conservative figures, not least of all former President George W. Bush, who he counts as a friend.

Angle has herself taken criticism from the Tea Party's Jon Scott Ashjian, who has been nipping at her heels like a disgruntled terrier. His problem is that old familiar line of Washington as a palace of corruption and invidious politics. In the capital, she 'got schooled on what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. And, at the end of the day she's turned out into the consummate politician.' Naturally, the virginal Ashjian is suggesting himself as the better alternative. The 'not so' consummate politician is de rigueur.

Why this fear of a Republican seizure of power? For one thing, the Obama bustle, that surge of popularity that pushed those who otherwise would not have voted to take to the polls two years ago, is not there. Those who turned out are predicted to simply stay home and turn in. He is deemed too liberal by some, and not liberal enough by others. Whatever stance Obama might be taking at the advertising level - demonstrating the Republicans to be mere extensions of Wall Street, shadows of high-powered capital - the senate races are proving to be quite another matter.

Should the Republicans gain control of both, or one of the houses, their presence on committees, argues Michael Tomasky in the New York Review of Books (Oct 28), would enable the GOP to lay an ambush for the Obama administration. Party strategists will be praying for a Tea Party surge to split the GOP. But whatever happens in November, conservative populism will be a true victor.

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