Wednesday, November 03, 2010

US Midterm Election

Today was the midterm election in the United States, where all of the House of Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate were up for election.  Considering the state of the economy, any party in power was going to get pounded, and that was the case for the Democrats.  There has been a huge swing of at least 60 seats to the Republicans in the House, but at least they did not gain control of the Senate, with the Democrats holding a very slim majority.  The Tea Party candidates also had mixed success, with both Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle not winning their races (thank God).  In California, Barbara Boxer retained her Senate seat and Jerry Brown is once again the Governor (he was first Governor when I was born!).

In The Age this weekend there was a great article by Simon Mann called "Divided states of America" which explained the current state of play in the US.  There is a shift underway that is especially squeezing the middle class.  According to CNN's Fareed Zakaria, ''[Americans] fear that we are in the midst not of a cyclical downturn but a structural shift, one that poses huge new challenges to the average American job, pressures the average American wage and endangers the average American Dream.'' 

This, along with a widening inequality in the US, is leading to a lot of the fear that is currently going on.  Robert Reich, a former member of President Clinton's cabinet views it this way:
"What we get from widening inequality is not only a more fragile economy but also an angrier politics... When virtually all the gains from growth go to a small minority at the top - and the broad middle class can no longer pretend it's richer than it is by using homes as collateral for deepening indebtedness - the result is deep-seated anxiety and frustration.  This is an open invitation to demagogues who misconnect the dots and direct the anger toward immigrants, the poor, foreign nations, big government, 'socialists', 'intellectual elites', or even big business and Wall Street.''

Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution sees the collapse of opportunity for the working and middle class as the core issue.  "Mass unemployment, underemployment, entire industries down-sizing with no particular hope of recovery … And so, the atmosphere of anxiety I think is rooted in the fact that people don't have a clear understanding of what the success story is for the next decade, either for the country or for themselves personally."

So what is the solution?  According to Galston, "Unless [people] have some increased confidence that somebody does understand the path to a better future and is prepared to put the country on course to move down that path, our political system is going to be very unstable and characterised by resentment, rejection and mistrust.''  With a gridlocked government, will anything get done over the next two years?  Only time will tell.

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