This upcoming presidential election will not be defined by the victory of Obama or Romney. Rather, the congressional elections are what matter most. With polls suggesting an Obama victory alongside major Republican wins in House and Senate races, this country is looking toward four years of divided government.
The last time this country had a Democratic president serve alongside a Republican-controlled House and Senate — between 1995 and 2001 — Bill Clinton was president. Some may argue that the Clinton administration, and the nation as a whole, benefited from this setup. We were deficit neutral, achieved welfare reform and boasted an economy that was performing well. Not to mention that Republicans and Democrats were able to work together.
I find it difficult to envision a similar situation today. The Republican and Democratic parties have become polarized to the point where their ideologies alienate many middle-of-the-road voters. This widening disparity makes ideological and political compromise between the two parties unlikely. Divided government will risk creating a government in gridlock and will offer few solutions to today’s most important problems.
Speaking of polarization in American politics, the Republican Party platform today asks for an audit of the Federal Reserve, revisits the gold standard debate and even wants to require a two-thirds vote for any legislation that would raise taxes. These dramatic shifts to the right are due to the party’s response to the Tea Party movement and the rise of a more individualist sentiment among other grassroots movements.
The Democrats, however, are not off the hook. They have become more active in personal economics, and they’ve bailed out industries and provided vast funds to Wall Street in the name of a stimulus package. Their recovery has seemed less like hope and more like cronyism. Slow and expensive, the recovery remains a work in progress, and Americans in the hardest-hit states are waiting for solutions.
With Obama in the White House and the Republicans controlling Congress, what can the American electorate expect? Acidic language, political gridlock and polarized politics, to name a few.
Due to the high likelihood of government gridlock, the presidential pendulum is bound to swing back to the right in 2016. And it will do so only to repeat the same process that has unfolded before our eyes from 1995 to 2008.
These political processes illuminate the central problem in American politics: our two-party system. As we have seen, polarized parties alienate the electorate and limit the value of the independent voter. So my plea to Georgetown community members who wish to be politically involved is this: Do not align yourself with the beliefs of just one party. Instead, think independently, selectively choose your political beliefs and promote change through reason rather than political appeasement.
Daniel Pierro is a sophomore in the College.