Wednesday, January 16, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The State of the Union

In this interim period between the first and second administrations of
President Barack Obama, there has not been much to be said of the
post-election political environment, and even less to be said about national
prospects. New cabinet nominations have signaled that the administration
will likely be much of the same, only with a new aggressiveness, especially
in its relationship to opposition Republicans, few of whom seem to have
caught their breath after the November elections.

One word that cannot be fairly used to describe Republican congressional
leadership is “inspired.” Members of the U.S. house and senate seem to have
adopted a pose as “independent contractors.” and their leaders have adopted
a strategy of “making the best bargain we can” in the short term negotiations
which lay immediately ahead. Prior to the 2012 national elections, the GOP
was profoundly factionalized, and this circumstance, unfortunately for the
conservative party, still prevails.

Some of those conservatives who seem likely to throw their fedoras into the
2016 ring are already making noises, including Senator Marco Rubio of
Florida, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Governor Bobby Jindal of Luisiana,
new Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and of course, Governor Chris Christie of
New Jersey. Others, such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush of Florida,
former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, South Dakota Senator John
Thune, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio,
and Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, are, for now, in much lower profile
(but not to be forgotten).

Most of the serious 2012 contenders, including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney,
former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Governor Rick Perry, seem to be
politically past their moment in the presidential campaign sun. Only Mr.
Gingrich, an intellectual fountain of his party for the past two decades, is likely
to continue to matter in the political fortunes ahead of the Republican Party.

On the Democratic side, most of the 2016 conversation is about Vice President
Joe Biden and retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But Biden will be 74
years old in 2016, and Mrs. Clinton only a few years younger. New York
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, and West Virginia
Senator Joe Manchin, new North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp and other
younger Democrats will likely emerge after 2014 as more formidable figures in
their party.

Of more immediate political interest, the 2014 mid-term elections loom as a
critical test of whether Obamaism will continue as a force in U.S. politics, or
whether, when all is said and done, it was more a cult of personality than a
political movement.

Initially, the “breaks” have gone mostly to the Republicans, in addition to their
inherent advantage of having only 13 incumbents (few of whom now seem
vulnerable) while the Democrats must risk 20 seats they now hold (at least half
of whom seem vulnerable). But, as 2012 demonstrated, this “inherent”
advantage can prove elusive (incumbent Democrats outnumbered Republicans
23-10, and the GOP amazingly lost net seats.). So far, Republicans seem to have
recruited strong challengers in South Dakota and West Virginia, Democratic
incumbents such as Jay Rockefeller are retiring Massachusetts incumbent John
Kerry has retired to become Secretary of State, and the long-time Democratic
incumbent in Hawaii is deceased, and been replaced by an appointee.
Nevertheless, the factional intraparty forces in the GOP remain mostly intact
and a strong incumbent such as Lamar 
Alexander in Tennessee may have a
far-right primary challenger.

In the U.S. house, the Republicans seem secure in their majority so far, and in
fact are planning to expand it from a total of 40 or so potentially vulnerable
Democratic incumbents.

The best news for the Republicans, however, seems to be in numerous states
where active and successful GOP governors seem to be making waves, often in
concert with GOP-controlled legislatures. These governors include already
mentioned Christie and Jindal, as well as Bob McDonnell of Virginia, John
Kasich of Ohio, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Scott Walker of Wisconsin,
Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida, and Rick Snyder of
Michigan. New Indiana Governor Mike Pence is likely to join this group.

Aside from the personalities, the issues facing the nation in 2013 remain, for
the most part, the issues of 2012. Unemployment continues chronically high,
deficits are growing. national entitlements of Social Security, Medicare and
Medicaid desperately need reform, pension funds are increasingly insecure,
the crisis in education is getting worse, and this list goes on.

The prospects, at least until 2015, are for political stalemate at precisely the
time when government should be actively repairing and resolving the
deteriorating national problems. That is the state of the union.

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Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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