Paul Marin, Columnist
Ideology: Liberal Republican | Writing from: George Washington University
Not long ago, an ousting of the party in power was just the change the country needed. In 2006, Americans were anxious over the course of the Iraq War. Many felt that America’s fighting men and women were dying in vain in Iraq, fighting a battle long lost. Riding the anti-Iraq War wave, the Democrats swept Congress. This electoral defeat woke up the Bush Administration to the realities of the war it had been ignoring and mismanaging. Thus, Bush finally fired the incompetent Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and woke up the military from its dogmatic slumber in Iraq. The resulting “surge strategy” headed off the prospect for another Vietnam-like defeat.
Today, America is crawling out of a deep recession with disheartening unemployment and record peacetime public debt. Rightfully so, everyday Americans not only worry about finding dignifying work to make ends meet, but, even more importantly, they feel that their sacrifice is wasted for they may not leave their children anything else than a mountain of debt. Some even are terrified that the values that made America are slowly disintegrating. These fears, despite being at times exaggerated, are solidly grounded in reality. In little over a decade from now, the Social Security budget will be dangerously close to insolvency. Similarly, notwithstanding its natural comparative advantage in education, America’s schools are not producing anymore a workforce competitive in the high-paying global job market. And even worse, the understandable concerns of average Americans have in turn revived xenophobia and anti-trade sentiments. Without a steady stream of highly qualified, hard-working and entrepreneurial immigrants, America will be put at an economic disadvantage. Such sentiments only can drive foreigners subscribing to American ideals away from the country’s shores.
It is unlikely that the Obama administration and democratic congressional leaders will hear the message loud enough unless their constituents make their voices heard on Tuesday. This is why an alternation of partisan power is beneficial. Like in 2006 when the Democratic electoral success pressured the Bush administration to revise policy, a Republican sweep of congress is needed for the Obama Administration to improve its economic decisions.
There are, though, several other important benefits for the country in the eventuality of Republican victory. First, it is more likely that the GOP will better address the country’s deficit problem. Not only is it ideologically weary of government spending, but it has made the exploding deficit a centerpiece of their campaign. With the report of the presidential bipartisan commission for deficit reduction due out on December 1st, Republicans will have to choose from taking painful votes for cutting spending in a meaningful way, such as reforming social security, and cutting some entitlements or appearing hypocritical in front of the electorate in 2012. Moreover, the Republicans likely will seek to address the deficit with further tax increase—an imperative should the U.S. aspire to maintain its international competitiveness. Second, the GOP’s support for free trade should enable the Obama Administration finally to ratify long overdue free trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia, and it might enable the president to pursue other necessary trade agreements. Third, the combination of a Republican congress and an Obama White House would allow for more meaningful education reform.
Equally important, a Republican Congress finally will give a voice to the disgruntled voters who feel that a liberal elite is threatening the fabric of America’s values through bailouts and wealth redistribution. By being represented in Congress by people the Tea Parties consider legitimate, they will feel more integrated in the political system rather than shunned, which seems to be the best way to contain the Tea Party movement before its fringe xenophobic elements fully take over its discourse.
Despite the need for a Republican Congress in January, the GOP is far from a perfect solution to America’s problems. Unfortunately, the neoconservative virus has not yet been extinguished from the Senate. Neoconservatives will ramp up the drums for war with Iran dangerously. Even worse, some Republicans still retain the Cold War mentality in their attitude towards Russia. Senator Jim DeMint’s opposition to the New START treaty is absurd and ignorant of the economic opportunities for American companies in Russia as well as for the need to keep Russia a partner of the U.S. in the Pacific region. Similarly, some republicans have borderline xenophobic views on immigration. Should they gain more power, they will be able to derail any functional reform of America’s broken immigration system.
Voting in a Republican Congress on Tuesday is a gamble. The fresh blood from their Congressional victory may allow them to pursue a ridiculous, uncompromising opposition to President Obama in an effort to retake the White House. Alternatively, given the extremism of some of their candidates, it will be difficult for their leaders to control their caucuses effectively, rendering them more politically inefficient in tackling the deficit and the rest of America’s pressing issues. With the economy in the tank, the Obama Administration needs both a wake-up call as well as political cover for decisions that would be unpopular with the liberal base on economic issues. The imperative for change makes voting Republican a well-placed bet. And should it not live up to its promise, a Republican Congress may be what President Obama needs for reelection.