The Republican Party has swept the U.S. midterm elections and now controls the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is the first time since 2006 that they have had held a majority in both houses. The position will allow them to pass conservative bills with ease and push President Obama to personally veto each one.
Since Obama's election in 2008, the Republicans have obstinately blocked any and all of the President's proposals. Big or small, important or insignificant, if the bill had Obama's name on it, the Republicans would block it – earning them the reputation "The Party of No." Now that the Republicans are in control of both houses, they have promised that work "will finally get done in Washington." Ironic; considering they were the ones that created gridlock to begin with.
Obama has both pledged cooperation with the new majority and warned he will veto any attempt to overrule Obamacare or other key pieces of legislature. In a way, the Republicans may be right. Things may finally start to move in Washington. Perhaps if the Republicans can no longer get by just saying "no" to Obama, they will finally bring some ideas to the table.
Now Obama is being called a "Lame Duck" president – in power but without any authority to pass his agenda. There are still some areas, however, where Obama can secure significant achievements, including foreign policy. The president can also use his executive authority to pass public safeguards like stricter pollution controls, labor rights and safety standards. Obama has said he plans to move forward with executive orders on immigration.
Obama has also sought Congressional approval for military strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). If the Republican-ruled houses agree they will share in the responsibility. If they refuse, then they may be blamed for the consequences.
It's not uncommon for U.S. presidents to be labeled a "lame duck" when they reach the twilight of their second term. Ronald Reagan lost control of the House and Senate to Democrats in the sixth year of his presidency, yet retained political influence and handed off the presidency to another Republican in 1989. Presidents Eisenhower and Franklin Delano Roosevelt also suffered midterm defeats in their second terms, yet we consider them two of our greatest presidents.
The biggest loser of the midterm was not the Democratic Party, nor was it President Obama. Rather, the biggest loss of the night was for the American voter. According to the Associated Press, only 83 million people voted in the midterm, or about 36.6 percent of eligible voters. For a country where so many people talk about democracy and freedom and political rights, that turnout is abysmal. In the midterms four years ago, 42 percent of the American population of voting age took part.
Why do so many Americans not vote? Some feel that their vote doesn't make a difference, others are so sick of the political mudslinging that they abstain from the whole process. The electorate is angry with members of both parties and there are no signs the polarization will ease.
The spotlight is now on the Republican Party. In the next two years will they be able to avoid the government shutdowns and battles that defined their leadership of the House since 2010? If so, they will be well positioned to win the presidency in 2016 and create an unstoppable dominance of the legislative branch. If not, the American public will elect another Democrat to lead the country. Either way, no one expects the infighting to stop.
The author is a columnist for Beijing Review, living in New York City