And so the right to govern is upon the Republican Party, which has bitched for six years that it was the minority, throwing stones at the systemic glass house, but now finds itself at the forefront of legislation. Or, in other words, it is easy to be the outsider carping about how things could be different if someone else, namely you, had access to the gears. Now we’ll see how this goes.
There is little question that the Barack Obama administration took a beating in both the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms. This is what happens to most presidents, some worse than others, and these were significant thrashings. The 2010 Tea Party movement following the completely partisan and highly questionable passing of the Affordable Care Act was monumental if not brief. In other words, this is what happens when a preponderance of people, many of those with no governing experience in the least, whose sole purpose for being elected is to stop the very thing to which they were elected to steer, can be troubling. Beyond Mitt Romney, a party-power moderate, being a total disaster as a presidential candidate, look no further as to why the Tea Party experiment lasted about 18 months and helped re-elect an anemic Obama.
The 2014 round was different because many moderates, or those who claimed so, took the point, and especially in the case of the GOP takeover of the national scene à la the senate, there was a fundamental shift in the RNC that took much of the groundswell of both Obama campaigns and funneled it strategically into winning back the game. It is important to note that by all indications the Republicans should have taken the Senate in 2010 if not for the Tea Party muse of amateur candidates going sideways and scaring many voters who came in wanting a sea change.
One thing the 114th Congress has achieved in its victory is the continued perception that Obama is an abject failure as a president. His November low-40s approval rating, the spate of scandals vaguely attached to him at the beginning of the always dangerous second term, and his obvious lame-duck demeanor of “going it alone” on domestic (immigration) and foreign (ISIS) policies put him on very shaky ground.
However, much of the “scandals” attached to the president were wildly overblown (Benghazi) and some, while being indefensible, commenced completely outside the White House (IRS), but are hard to escape since the buck, as stated in song and story, must land at the executive’s feet. Having affirmed this, the Republican surge of 2014 is also different from 2010, because while being two years removed from a seismic financial collapse in ’08, the economic trends have been pointing upwards for well over a calendar year, and have recently spiked for the first time since before the 21st century into the category of solid. (2013 marked largest private sector job increase since 1999.) Therefore, using the method for which the 114th Congress wrested power from the Democratic power base—the fault of all things falls to the president—it would seem that some plaudits are due Mr. Obama.
Perception has quickly shifted since November—remember this is perception, not reality, a game usually played by the party out of power—now that the economic outlook has improved greatly. The reasons for which are many—some global, some policy-driven, mostly the pendulum swing of natural order, as many economists predicted during the 2012 presidential campaign that the candidate lucky enough to be around would benefit from the trend pointing upward. Had Romney prevailed he could claim, “I told you so” and if Obama won, which happened, he could claim a six-year plan reaping the benefits.
For the record, these include the unemployment rate down to 5.6 percent currently from 9.6 when Obama took office. Many rightfully cite that it is partly due to a preponderance of the workforce failing to even continue looking for a gig, which, we are reminded, was also the case in 1986 during conservative economic stalwart, Ronald Reagan’s sixth year in office when the number was a steady 7.1 percent. And this was, as we all remember fondly, “Morning in America.” It is also important to note that candidate Romney promised to get the number down to under six percent by his apocryphal second term in 2016. It is two weeks into 2015.
Additional numbers compiled by Forbes magazine (hardly the font of Keynesian economics) from graphs presented in the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014 report, reveal the result of 58 consecutive months of private-sector job growth (most in the history of the republic). This has slowly, if not painfully, produced an increase of 5 percent in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most in over a decade. This is not factoring in the tripling of the stock market since 2009 and the recent dip in gas prices to under two dollars, which seemed so much a pipe dream also-ran Republican candidate, Newt Gingrich, was laughed off the stage by a conservative audience when he promised to personally get prices under $2.50.
As stated, much of this spectacularly fantastic economic news when compared to the financial horrors of the Western Hemisphere hanging from a thread in the autumn of 2008, are due to many factors well above and beyond the White House—not the least of which being the dreaded 2013 Budget Sequestration, which both parties warned would destroy the entire concept of the American economic system, can be seen as a very positive effect on this recovery, including the “Congress of no,” which has substantially subtracted to the national deficit—$486 billion down from $680 billion in 2013. But if the perception of a corrupt administration was a determining factor for bashing the president then it stands to reason the perception of the recovery is his to gloat.
Thus the president’s approval rating has spiked to a modest, but hardly egregious, 47 percent. To contrast, George W. Bush, whose pathetic two terms are unfairly compared to this president, left office with an amazingly sad 22 percent.
Okay, so where does this leave our 114th Congress, already cranking out bills to get the Keystone Pipeline going (57 percent approved by American public), hits on the existing Dodd-Frank law, and a legislative response to Obama’s controversial executive action on immigration laws?
Unlike, say, the 1994 Republican Revolution led by Newt Gingrich, which assisted in making Bill Clinton’s late-’90s economy by far the best war-free run ever, this is not a stable crew. First off, House Speaker John Boehner is mostly despised by his base and his trust factor with the president is nil, as is Obama’s record to deal with political adversity (he sucks at it), while consequently Clinton thrived better under pressure than when things went fairly smoothly.
The good news for all of us is that this Congress shows no signs of spending or even recognizing the final two years of this presidency, and most of the executive orders Obama has promised will do little to shift economic trends. The question, which now must be asked (some 22 months out), is who will take the White House in 2016 and what effect that might have in shifting power in the Senate back to the Democrats, or if by then, as was the case with the swing from last summer to now, the numbers begin to lag on the perception of both parties.